Isaac Villegas is pastor of Chapel Hill (N.C.) Mennonite Fellowship. This post originally ran at www.mcc.org.
I’ve been running, a lot. The other day I ran 27 miles, just because I wanted to know if I could do it; to know what my body feels like when I think it can’t go anymore. What does exhaustion feel like?
I started running like this when a friend told me about the Palestine Marathon in Bethlehem, a run that draws attention to the exhaustion of having to live in the shadow of the wall. Because of the wall and checkpoints, there is no continuous 26-mile route for us to run. Instead, we’ll have to circle through refugee camps, through Dheisheh and Aida Camp, returning to the Church of the Nativity, always within the bounds of the restricted perimeter, never escaping the confinement of fortified borders.
This last month of my training has been during the liturgical season of Lent, which is a time for meditation. Running has become my Lenten practice, a time for reflection and contemplation. While running I’ve been thinking about a poem written two years ago during the bombing of Gaza as a way to focus my mind of why I’m doing this. It’s called “Running Orders,” by Lena Khalaf Tuffaha. Here are several lines that circle through my mind as I run these days:
“They call us now.
Before they drop the bombs.
They think of it as some kind of war time courtesy.
It doesn’t matter that
there is nowhere to run to.
It means nothing that the borders are closed
and your papers are worthless
and mark you only for a life sentence
in this prison by the sea…
You live in the wrong place
and now is your chance to run
Running to nowhere. That’s what this marathon is about. For the Palestinians, there is no escape from the wall. There is no outside. Instead: restricted life, confined life, in the shadow of towering concrete. Running around in circles.
I’m doing this run for myself, to let my body feel a day of exhaustion, the tired frustration of running into the same wall at the end of every street, and to feel the energy of Palestinians who keep on finding ways to live in confinement, to invent creative possibilities for the routines of daily life to go on in spite of it all–to run together, to celebrate the life they’ve worked so hard to sustain.
So, what about you? I’m paying my own way to Bethlehem, so I don’t need your money. But I thought I could use this as an opportunity to ask your help in funding an organization that helps to sustain life in this region of the world. Mennonite Central Committee has been working for peace in Israel-Palestine since the late 1940s. Most recently, MCC has been working with partners in Gaza to rebuild after the bombings in 2014. Thousands of people are still trying to find housing after the destruction. Your contribution will be used for these efforts in Gaza.
As Lena Khalaf Tuffaha writes in her poem, “there is nowhere to run to”–but there are ways to sustain the runners, even as they run in place. That’s what I’m asking you to do–to let your money be used by people as they rebuild their own lives, for as long as they can, as long as their communities are allowed to exist, even as the walls keep on closing in on them.
(Here’s a link to the marathon, if you’re interested in learning more about it: http://palestinemarathon.com/about/whywedoit/)
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