Fellow Passengers: This week’s Promise Passage* (Nehemiah 4:1-6) transports me to a place right out of history, a construction site where Rubble (it doesn’t mention Fred) is brought back to life to work alongside a host of other stone masons engaged in a wooly mammoth effort to re-build a wall for Jerusalem, the bedrock of their faith. The recently returned exiles are on cloud nine as they contemplate restoring their home city, but a series of taunts from neighboring bullies threaten to shoot them down. One of the workers shouts back to the taunters, hey, hey, you, you, get off my cloud! and they double their efforts. Wild horses couldn’t drag them away from the wall.
The wall is critical to the community’s survival. They have been under the thumb of foreign powers for ages, serving as beasts of burden for Babylonian warlords, and now have the opportunity to create a strong refuge back in their homeland. They know that a storm is threatening the the life of their faith community, and if they don’t get some shelter, they’re going to fade away. War is just a shot away, and they have no time to lose. They have no sympathy for their nemesis, the devil Sanballat, who is greatly angered by the progress they make.
Despite the old adage that good fences make good neighbors, I’ve never been a fan of erecting barriers and walls and dividing lines between neighbors. The current wall-building projects in Israel do not make for good relations with the Palestinian neighbors. Our country’s wall-building project along the Mexico border doesn’t strike me as particularly neighborly, either. These kinds of efforts to distance ourselves from strangers, instead of welcoming strangers, especially when promoted under the guise of faith, are about enough to give me my 19th nervous breakdown and put me in serious need of emotional rescue. But on a different level, this passage teaches me that there are times when we need to tend to and repair the wall of protection around the sacred space of our hearts, the sanctuary of our souls where critical voices of despair and violence cannot penetrate. In that vein, in the face of a taunting world, I’m ready to lay some rock, maybe even paint it black, so. . . Start me up.
How about you? Where does this Promise Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment. (Trivium of the day: Which classic Rolling Stones songs are referenced in this reflection?)