This olive wood pendant cost less than a dollar. The story behind it: priceless. In 2019, I pilgrimaged to Bethlehem with a group of pastors and ministry leaders. One of the organizing pastors arranged for us to stop at a local vendor not far from the traditional site of Jesus’ birth. We had just driven past the 25-foot wall that segregates Israeli from Palestinian land and heard first-hand stories of the occupation. A present-day apartheid, local Palestinians live in fear of military raids that have abducted children and ripped apart families. This U.S. pastor had previously lived in Bethlehem. Early into his family’s arrival, they experienced one of these military raids, only to find sanctuary in the home of this Palestinian shop owner. “I promised his family,” the pastor shared with us, “that if I ever returned with friends, I would be sure to return the favor in generosity.” I dropped more than a few bucks on souvenirs. Yet this small olive wood dove is my favorite. Every time I wear it, I am reminded of the story and the holy happenings in Bethlehem.
Holy means to be set apart, distinct, and marked as sacred. Holy is not about extravagance or high price tags. The holy happens in the small acts of loving kindness that point us towards the God of justice and compassion. The holy shows up when we participate in welcome and sanctuary, story telling and advocacy. The holy can be found in brittle olive wood pendants worn as reminders of the fragility of human life and the walls of oppression that run throughout Bethlehem and our communities, too. The holy also happens when we hold onto hope and exercise our faith as imaginative power* until these walls come tumbling down.
*See Mitri Raheb, Faith in the Face of Empire: The Bible through Palestinian Eyes (129-130).