OUR LADY OF THE WALL
by Elspeth Strachan
Posted 20 December 2015
Advent is a time of expectant waiting for the birth of Christ in us and in the world and this year the icon of Our Lady of the Wall has been haunting me since Advent began. She was painted on the Bethlehem Separation Barrier by local icon painter Ian Knowles in 2010 at the request of some local Franciscan sisters as a symbol of hope that one day the Wall would come down and the Israeli occupation end.
Every Friday without fail Franciscan, Benedictine and Melkite sisters and brothers, local Christians, visiting pilgrims - and the Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs) who are in Bethlehem with the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) - join one another for a prayer walk along part of the Wall, reciting Hail Mary and praying for peace.
As I reflect on my time in Bethlehem as an EA, I find myself irresistibly drawn to Our Lady of the Wall - despite having been brought up a Presbyterian where giving Mary any attention would have been unthinkable! She has risen above these fears and “printed an image in my heart as a mark that will never be erased from my soul” to quote a passage from the Song of Songs, used by Ian Knowles as an introduction to his Bethlehem Icon School website.
The image printed in my heart by this icon is of someone pointing to the Christ child growing in her. One hand rests on her womb and the other is on her brow in sorrow at what Bethlehem has become. Beneath her is a doorway into Jerusalem – the place that Palestinians from the West Bank can no longer go without a permit. To her left are three olive trees representing faith, hope and love. Her eyes look directly at us, challenging us to allow Christ to grow in us as he grows in her. As Rowan Williams says: “That is what any icon sets out to embody and transmit. We, watching and waiting for Christ to come more fully to birth in us, are waiting for our lives to become 'iconic', to show in their colour and line and movement, how God acts, Christlike in us."
The challenge for all Christians and particularly those in Palestine is to trust that Christ will indeed come more fully to birth in us and in our world, bringing light to the darkest places, even Bethlehem.
Elspeth Strachan was sent by Quaker Peace & Social Witness (QPSW) as an Ecumenical Accompanier serving on the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). This blog expresses her personal views and experiences of her time there. She is a spiritual director and member of the Epiphany Group.