Episode 20: Hands Touch

It seems unlikely to me now, as I sit in my Cleveland office, that just a week ago I was less than a mile south of the Syrian border visiting 45 families in a make-shift refugee camp.

What I saw there affected me at a very deep spiritual and emotional level. This was human misery mixed with an indomitable will to survive under the most horrifying of circumstances. This was testimony to humanity’s capacity to both inflict unspeakable sorrow, and humanity’s capacity to overcome it with grace, with dignity, and with pride.

After handing out some food supplies and some hygienic products, I stood admiring the men and women whose children clung closely to them. It was clear those children felt a deep connection to their parents.

A young mother saw me smiling and her little son – and when he smiled back she came over to me and held her son out to me. I took him in my arms and held him for a while. There was no fear – no apprehension. The mother beamed with pride as I held her son, and she introduced me to her three older daughters through an interpreter.

A little while later, I saw a small girl, about 5 years old, sitting alone on a rock. I went and sat next to her for a long while. We never spoke to each other, but exchanged smiles. She was shy – I could tell. Every once in a while, she would hold out her hand to touch mine. I would respond to the gesture by extending my own hand, and she would simply lay her small hand on top of mine and hold it there – and then pull it away. We sat that way for about 30 minutes – exchanging gentle touches every few minutes or so before she went to play with another group of children nearby.

Shortly before our visit ended, I spoke through an interpreter with two men: a farmer and a carpenter. They offered me a cup of coffee – a kindness they could ill afford, and one that I could not say no to. Although I had never taken a sip of coffee in my life (I loathe the smell of it), I drank it down and afforded them the dignity their sense of hospitality required. One man spoke of how unsafe their home back in Syria had become. He worked on the trains – and the trains were often targeted for bombing. He said at least here, in these makeshift tents given to them by the UN, at least here his children slept at night – and he felt safe.

In a world where I am taught to fear Muslims because they are terrorists hell-bent on undoing my precious freedom and undermining Christianity – these encounters on the border with these precious, generous, hospitable families suggest something else. We are one human family. Labels like Jew, Muslim, and Christian suggest something fundamentally different about us.

Truth is, we love our children and will do whatever we have to in order to keep them safe, fed, and warm. We will invest everything we have in an effort to give them a life worth living.

And whatever ever god we relate to along the way to help sustain us through the mighty challenges is a god that induces kindness, compassion, hospitality to the stranger, and a recognition of something sacred in every person.

I went into that refugee camp thinking I had something important to offer. I left knowing that I took back with me much more than I had given.

I stand in awe of the power of a sacred presence that abides with me everywhere I go. May you find yourself open to the surprises that await you as your journey unfolds Into the Mystic.