Recent news reports of our President’s visit to Israel sent me to the bookshelves where we keep our photo albums. (Sorry, digital is not sufficient for me. I like to hold the book, flip through the pages, read my comments, and relive those memories – makes for a fabulous rainy afternoon activity.)
There’s an album for each year, and some years merited more than one. Such was 2012 when we had the opportunity of a lifetime as we made our eleven-day Peace and Justice Pilgrimage to Israel. We saw the Antiquities, visited the Holy Places, and spent time with the “Living Stones,” those who are committed to ending the age-old conflict and creating a land of peace. One of those living stones was Elias Chacour, the Archbishop of Haifa, Nazareth, and Galilee. Just a brief encounter with this man bespeaks his greatness. As an advocate of non-violence, he travels the world preaching peace. He was Israel’s “Man of the Year” in 2001, and for me, our visit with him was near the top of my most significant moments during our travels.
As Archbishop Chacour spoke to us for a couple of hours one morning, he asked the question, “Would you agree that Israel is a country of contrasts?” We nodded in agreement to which he replied in his thick accent, “I understand the language of your heads.”
You might be expecting an essay on peace. I only wish I had those answers or even thoughts worth writing down, but regrettably, I do not. Instead I’m thinking about body language. Language is one of the defining characteristics of a culture and while so important, it is often a barrier. His statement to us about understanding the language of our nodding heads sent me to pondering.
What if there was no spoken or written language and people came to know us just from the language of our bodies? It’s a bit disturbing to think of what I might be communicating. Do I sit up straight and tall and pay attention? Do I give enough hugs and friendly slaps on the back? Do I extend a helping hand? Would the one communicating with me know that he has my complete attention? Do I make enough eye contact? Are my arms open or are my fists tight?
And then, what would I understand about another’s body language? Is my friend tired and weary from her load? Is the child in front of me angry and frustrated because he’s under so much stress? Are his arms folded, closing himself off to others to avoid more hurt? Is she joyful? Does he feel alienated? Are her eyes red from weeping or lack of sleep?
Today, I offer two challenges. First, the very next voice you hear, turn to the person and look, really look. Just try listening with your eyes and see what you hear. You may need to ponder that one. And the second challenge—only for a moment, I challenge you to sit quietly and think about your hands, not your nodding head or facial expressions, just your hands. Are they idle? Are they busy? Is what they’re busy about making a difference? Are they slapping or clapping?
Archbishop Chacour offers us one more thing to ponder today. He says, “If there is a problem somewhere, this is what happens. Three people will try to do something concrete to settle the issue. Ten people will give a lecture analyzing what the three are doing. One hundred people will commend or condemn the ten for their lecture. One thousand people will argue about the problem. And one person—only one—will involve himself so deeply in the true solution that he is too busy to listen to any of it. Now…which person are you?”