November 27, 2004

"May Peace Prevail on Earth"

I don't know what group or organization plants these pillars around the globe, but I've seen them at many tourist sites. This Thanksgiving, my family gathered, and my dad led the prayer before we sat to dinner. He thanked God for what we had and then asked for peace. His prayer was simple, like the prayer on this pillar, which stands atop Mt. Nebo in Jordan. Of all the places I've seen this pillar, nowhere have I been more affected by its simple plea than when I stood on this spot where Moses first looked upon the Promised Land. God would not let him enter, and he died on Mt. Nebo.

I looked down from Mt. Nebo at a landscape that has been and continues to be the source of a mighty amount of the world's strife. Peace prevailing on earth is contingent upon it prevailing in the Middle East, where this pillar stands, at a Christian site in aMuslim land, overlooking the West Bank, its towns sprinkled below in the haze, and Jerusalem and the Dead Sea shimmering in Israel. All the weight of centuries of conflict over religion, politics and oil gripped me in a powerful chokehold as I stood atop this holy mountain and looked down on perhaps the most contested stretch of soil and sand on the planet.

A Jordanian guard at the mosaic-filled Byzantine church that crowns the mountaintop asked me where I was from. When I said the US, he said, "Ah! Brothers!." I told him Jordan was a beautiful country, and he said, "It is your country. You are welcome." I stood next to a small group of visitors, and we contemplated, silently, the places spread below us. It was late afternoon, and the Dead Sea was like a brilliant silvery-yellow mirror stretching to the horizon. Jerusalem's towers were just visible in the haze. A map pointed to and identified the towns and settlements peppered below: Hebron, Bethlehem, Nablus, Jericho, Ramallah, Nazareth. The tip of Lake Tiberias -- the Sea of Galilee -- was lit by the muted rays of the waning sun.

I stood here before there was a security wall running through parts of this landscape. Perhaps a reader will tell me whether you see the wall when you stand atop Mt. Nebo today. To see it would, in my mind, add a powerful layer of sadness to what is already one of the most simultaneously moving and troubling views I've ever contemplated in my travels. A vista that encompasses the best and the worst of what human beings have wrought through the ages.

Rose-red rays lit the prayer pillar. In four languages, it asked that peace prevail on earth. That can happen, but only if the language of peace becomes our lingua franca.