Monday, November 20, 2006

The repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets

Back in August, I wrote about my need to set out for something new. The something, it turns out, is graduate school in public policy or public administration, and then moving overseas for the foreseeable future, working on reconstruction, peacebuilding and development in conflict or post-conflict situations. Three to five years from now, I want to be in Beirut or Basra or Kabul, partnering with religious and tribal leaders to rebuild streets, redesign sewer systems, or create jobs: whatever is most needed and wanted by the people I'm working with. Why this, why me, why grad school first, and what it all means aren't subjects I want to dissect in a post. Suffice it to say that I'm going through a time of transition, with attendant rough edges and general edginess. I can't focus on anything other than the details of moving forward: school choices, essays, recommendations, transcripts... But when this passage from Isaiah was read on Sunday morning, I stopped and listened. Here was the prophet talking about exactly what I want to do-- repair breaches, restore streets and gardens-- and making it clear that this fast is chosen and blessed by God. I don't need to look outside its bounds for a calling or a spiritual life. I can pursue that kneeling in a church or pacing around a beaten-up, burnt-down office, with people arguing, weapons being waved, and chaos around every corner. As long as I am focused on making a space for the possibility of shalom, I think I'll be doing what I'm supposed to do.

Is this not the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and the Lord will say, 'Here I am.' If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.

Restoration of Bagh-e-Babur, Kabul, 2005

Saturday, November 11, 2006

The Parable of the Old Men and the Young (Wilfred Owen)

The Parable of the Old Men and the Young

So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,
And took the fire with him, and a knife.
And as they sojourned both of them together,
Isaac the first-born spake and said, My Father,
Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
But where the lamb for this burnt-offering?
Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,
And builded parapets and trenches there,
And stretchèd forth the knife to slay his son.
When lo! an Angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything to him, thy son.
Behold! Caught in a thicket by its horns,
A Ram. Offer the Ram of Pride instead.

But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.

- Wilfred Owen