Recently a family member shared her experiences of working in occupied Palestine where she lived with local communities, participated in daily activities and gave voice to local groups working non-violently for peace.
She told stories of how families and individuals are regularly harassed or attacked by extremist Israeli settlers. Working for the World Council of Churches these young witnesses, like my relative, stand at checkpoints within the West Bank and at the gates of the separation barrier to try to reduce the abuse of Palestinian rights and to help people gain access to their land, jobs, education or medical facilities.
As I ponder the reality of daily life in occupied Palestine, it is not difficult to appreciate our freedom and well-being in this country. Yet sadly I can too easily find ways where that well-being is undermined.
Most recently a colleague of mine, a fellow bishop, has been subject to such personal, individualised attacks that he has withdrawn from a new diocesan appointment. I am saddened and appalled at the angry strife, the unkindness and the quarrelling spirit.
Where is the fruit of the spirit, where is the kindness, where is the love which Jesus called us to demonstrate? I realise that this is far from the human rights abuses in occupied Palestine and in other places across the world, but if we allow the seeds of selfishness, strife, unkindness and want of love to take root then the nation we live in is a sadder, unhappier place.
Lent is often linked to a period of confession. Yes, we have individual sins to confess but like the prophet Daniel, when he prays there is a deep concern for the religious community and for the nation. Daniel says: “We have sinned and done wrong, acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your ordinances and commandments.”
The prophet makes us conscious of love and justice. He makes us community conscious; conscious too for our brothers and sisters in need. In prayer, Daniel asks for himself and others the forgiveness and deliverance that was the cry of his heart. We may not live in a war-torn situation but we can still fall prey to strife and discord.