I have a memory of a rather well-done nature documentary (Animals are Beautiful People, if you care to know), in which the film-makers document life throughout the continent of Africa. In one particular fairy-tale scene, they depict the miraculous transformation of the dry, barren desert into a floral wonderland. Landscape after landscape gives way to a multicolored display of intricately crafted botanical artwork. The arrival of these flowers not only signals the transformation of the desert landscape, but it is the beginning of a new season in the desert, as the life of these plants feeds the life of animals and men.
This is the cycle of the natural world: barrenness gives way to life, and life begets more life. Not only is this cycle exhibited in the natural world, it is held at the focal point of the Christian tradition in the doctrine of Christ’s death and resurrection. Not only is this a process of moving from a state of death or barrenness into life, but through the resurrection, life is given to those who believe in Christ. I would even argue that Christ’s death and resurrection is the archetype and source for all other cycles which turn from barrenness to life.
Oftentimes, the barrenness from which life arises is the result of some form of contra-being. Something or someone may be the instigator of a particular form of barrenness. In the act of Creation, God speaks over and against a darkness which covered the face of the deep. Christ’s resurrection works against the evil of the authorities, as well as that of Satan. As Joseph told his brothers, “You meant evil against me, but God has used evil for good.”
I have only understood this cycle of resurrection through whatever means are available to someone raised in the generally uneventful, well-off childhood which is the gift of the American middle-class. The most powerful means of understanding came through metaphors and stories, with the occasional first-world problem thrown in. In Israel, I had a strong engagement with reality in a way that bore a very true witness to the process of life coming from death.
I climbed off of our bus on a very hot day, following a long bus ride which began in Jerusalem. I gathered from our tour guide that we were at a place called a kibbutz, which was essentially a community that operated under socialist principles and still worked. (As a capitalist, this sounded absurd, but I rolled with it.) We were ushered into what looked like an American elementary school classroom. I was still waking up from the lethargy acquired on the bus ride as our guide introduced a kindly older lady, who was a member of this kibbutz (which, according to my memory and Google is called Kfar Aza).
As this woman told us about the life of her community, she became more and more of a paradox: she spoke with such kindness, love and earnestness; at the same time the thing she described was a constant violence which tore through their community. Kfar Aza, she explained, was subject to missile attacks from the nearby Gaza Strip. She told us of the trauma gathered by the members of the community, and how toddlers had learned a game to correspond with the sirens. Sirens would signal a less than ten second window to find shelter before explosions sent shrapnel cutting through the landscape. She later showed us the large bomb shelters by every bus stop, as well as fragments from various projectiles which she had gathered.
The contrast of this woman’s welcoming personality against the violence which she and her friends had suffered was furthered by the condition of the kibbutz itself: the houses and land looked well kept, and I would have never thought that the land had been bombed had she not told us. I found the experience grew more and more surreal. The instincts which I adopted from my mother asked, “Who let us come to such a dangerous place?” while simultaneously I felt no threat. Nothing about the kibbutz gave any impression of danger; rather, the kibbutz seemed to be a place of life.
This left with me a very vivid image of life coming from death. Our guide took us to a fence on the edge of their property and showed us the hospitals from which terrorists fired their rockets. These men intended evil upon the small kibbutz which lay across the barren zone of desert, and yet the kibbutz was truly a place of life.
After leaving the kibbutz, we traveled to Sderot, a larger city nearby. Our guide showed us a playground where bomb shelters were disguised as giant caterpillars or decorated with paintings of Smurfs. I was surprised by the size of this city, being as it was under constant threat of bombings. Nevertheless, here it was, not much different than any of the other cities we had seen in Israel.
Before we completed our day’s journey in Sderot, our guide informed us that there was one more thing she wanted us to see. Our bus driver worked his way through the narrow Israeli streets until we came to it: a patch of large flowers planted in the center of a roundabout. As we drew closer, our guide drew our attention closer to these flowers. They were not natural, but artificial, bent from scraps of metal collected from the rockets and shells which had torn through their city.
Of my experiences in Israel, these metal flowers stood as the most precise and powerful statement of the Israeli posture in the face of persecution. Like the flowers of the African desert, these metal flowers exist through and against dry, barren conditions. They stand as a symbol for the resilience of these people against death and violence. Places like Kfar Aza and Sderot reflect and participate in the cycle of life coming from death, and in doing so they become themselves sources of life, within their own communities and beyond. As a Christian, I recognize this as an outworking of Christ’s resurrection. As Joseph told his brothers, “You meant evil against me, but God has used evil for good.”