“Noah waited another seven days and sent out the dove again. It returned to him in the evening with a fresh olive leaf in its beak” Gn 8: vv 10-11
“Noah waited another seven days and sent out the dove again. It returned to him in the evening with a fresh olive leaf in its beak” Gn 8: vv 10-11[a].
Father Raed Abusahlieh is a Latin-rite Catholic priest who serves the Church in Jerusalem in his official capacity as Chancellor of the Latin Patriarchate. Recently, he instituted a much-needed personal information service. He sends out via e-mail to an ever-expanding network of acquaintances all sorts of official church-related documents as well as personal articles or testimonies that are faith-centred and that reflect the local Christian position in the Holy Land. Last week, he and I selected together the header title for this advocacy and interpretation service. Our choice fell on the humble olive tree, associated with Jesus’ Passion as much as being a universal symbol of peace and a national symbol for Palestine.
Indeed, anyone who has travelled in the Holy Land knows that olive trees are omnipresent. On the hillsides and across the valleys, one can see hundreds of them dotting the landscape. Through the hot and dry summer months, they are often the only greenery to be seen for miles on end. In Jerusalem, despite the relentlessly long and rain-free months, the olives manage to grow and ripen. When everything else in this land is almost lifeless, the olive trees are ready for harvest.
How does this happen? For one thing, the trees have remarkably deep roots that tap the water which runs far beneath the soil. This provides them with a source which most of the other plant life in the region cannot reach. For another, the leaves allow the trees to draw in and retain the moisture of the early morning dew. That small daily moisture is essential for the nurturing and growth of the olives. These two factors help create a tree which can produce fruit in the harsh summer season, and give abundantly at harvest time in autumn when all else is seemingly barren. Olive trees are firm.
This firmness brings to my mind a New Testament passage from St Paul’s letter to the Colossians. Paul writes, “Since you have accepted Christ Jesus as Lord, live in union with him. Keep your roots deep in him, build your lives on him, and become stronger in your faith, as you were taught” [Col 2: vv 6-7(a)]. We know the world is often a difficult and challenging place. Yet, we are called to be just like the olive tree, to let our roots reach down, to deepen our relationship with God and humankind, so that we can receive life-sustaining encouragement and nourishment. And just as the olive tree gratefully receives the early morning dew, we too need to be aware of the gifts of grace which God provides to strengthen us – whether that gift lies in a tremulous smile, a kindly word, the squeeze of a hand, the advice of a caring friend, the unquestioning hospitality of a stranger or even the aid of an ‘enemy’ at a moment of personal peril.
But it is hard, is it not? Every day, newspapers, radios and television screens across the world are full of depressing news fed to increasingly information-hungry consumerist societies. And for those of us who live in the Holy Land, the past six weeks have been even more agonising than usual. It is not enough that people have been living for many years now with over-abundant amounts of news items about mutual negation, violence, demonization, terror, fear and distrust between Palestinians and Israelis. Now, with the Intifada of Al-Aqsa, the past six weeks have been even more compelling in their negative intensity. With all the deaths and injuries of the unequal battles being waged between Palestinians and Israelis, the news have been replete with graphic – and often mind-numbing – details about pain, bereavement, sorrow and suffering.
Being faithful disciples of Christ in a broken, wounded and bleeding world is an arduous and trying task. We need to develop the eyes and ears that help us to perceive God’s presence even when so much around us seems to deny it. It is so easy to voice despair, to court surrender, to turn bitter and to sink into defeat. It is equally easy to avoid seeing that which is being ostensibly offered to us. But to achieve that sentient quality of communion and communication, we also need to develop the tools that equip us to fight for our faith. And that in itself is a formidable task, because it is almost inevitably an uphill struggle that needs firmness, steadfastness and outreach in our own journey on earth.
The Book of Genesis tells us the story of the dove that brings back a fresh olive leaf in its beak in order to let Noah know that the flood had subsided. As such, the olive tree has become a harbinger of goodness in our lives. Equally, and should we manage to achieve in our own personal lives a firmness of faith and a level of ‘spiritual accessibility’ [as Bishop Hans Kung calls it] that overcome adversity, then much like that humble olive tree, we will be able to produce abundant fruit.
(c) harry-bvh @ 13 November 2000