The Reverend Sandy Webb and the Reverend Hester Mathes both wrote at the end of a challenging day in and around Bethlehem on Monday, each of them reflecting on Biblical mothers memorialized in these sacred spaces, on land that is marked by conflict as well as by faith:
The Reverend Sandy Webb
Mothers' Day came early for us this year.
Monday with a visit to the place where the Blessed Virgin Mary is said to have
visited her sister, Elizabeth, while they were both pregnant. We continued on
to Bethlehem, where Mary delivered Jesus. And, we finished up at the tomb of
Rachel, Jacob’s favorite wife.
All of the holy places that we visited today had
something to do with motherhood, but none of these mothers had an easy life:
Elizabeth delivered St. John the Baptist, who lived his life on the margins of
society, and who was ultimately beheaded for running afoul of Herod Antipas’
wife and daughter. Mary suffered the shame of an extramarital pregnancy, and
also watched her son die at the hands of the Roman Empire. Rachel had to wait
fourteen years to marry Jacob, and then she died in childbirth.
The current condition of these holy sites is no easier
than the lives of the women they commemorate:
Elizabeth’s hometown is high on a mountain. The Roman
Catholics have built a church there with impressive mosaics and a lovely
garden. Engraved on the twenty-foot wall in the garden is Mary’s “magnificat”
translated into the many languages of the world. I felt for a moment that I had
returned to Eden, but then I looked up and saw barbed wire along the top of the
wall, a reminder of the ambient level of violence that surrounds us here.
Bethlehem is in “Zone A,” an area completely controlled
by the Palestinian Authority – we had to pass through a checkpoint in Israel’s
security wall to get there. The security wall is made of reinforced concrete at
least a foot thick and at least thirty feet tall. There is razor wire along the
top and guard towers no farther apart than a soldier’s line of sight. Life is
different on the Palestinian side; the water is no longer drinkable, and the
signs of poverty and unemployment abound.
Rachel’s tomb has been encircled by Israel’s security
wall such that it cannot be accessed from the Palestinian side. The backdrop of
our prayers for Rachel was the graffiti art that has been sprayed along the
Our day was supposed to a remembrance of the holy mothers
in our spiritual heritage. It became a reflection on struggles both ancient and
modern, on broken dreams, on lives that were not what I would have wanted them
Metaphors of mothers and fathers carry with them a great
deal of emotional baggage, but they also carry with them a sense of love,
accountability and hopefulness. My prayer at the end of a somber day is that
these constructive attributes of motherhood will find their way into all of our
hearts whenever and wherever the reality of our world is something less than
what God wants it to be for us.
The Reverend Hester Mathes
The story of Joseph from Genesis was a formative story for
me from a very young age. I fell in love with the musical and watched it
performed both at Calvary Episcopal Church and Playhouse on the Square in Memphis many times. Beyond being
dazzled by Joseph’s coat of many colors, I remember being just as dazzled by
the unfathomable act of forgiveness he showed his brothers. Many years after
the brothers’ plot landed him in slavery, Joseph finds it in himself to
welcome them not only into his abundance in Egypt, but also into his
Today we celebrated the mother of Joseph and Benjamin,
Jacob’s beloved Rachel, by visiting her tomb… almost. We were on the other side of the dividing
wall that cuts through Bethlehem, divided from Rachel’s tomb by a concrete wall. From our side we remembered the story of
Rachel’s family as we read Genesis 35:16-21 and Ephesians 2:12-22, and prayed
for peace and reconciliation in Israel.
Prayer by the
Dividing Wall Near Rachel’s Tomb
written by the
Reverend Hester Mathes and the Reverend Susan Prinz
Holy God, help us to be the Rachels in this world, giving
birth to the sons of mercy and reconciliation, and the covenant of promise that
brings peace to all.
Help us to be as Rachel’s firstborn, Joseph, who welcomes
back all of his brothers with mercy, nurture and hope, to be reconciled to one
another, and no longer strangers to the covenant of promise.
Help us to be as Benjamin, whose love of his father becomes
the genesis of reconciliation.
As the living stones of God, help us to reach beyond justice
for mercy, to imagine and work for abundance for all, to eliminate the dividing
walls of hostility, and to proclaim the peace of God that passes all