The Holy and The Profane

By: Nicole Newman (Washington D.C.)

Israeli soldiers tinker with armor

Adjust guns on hips

Too young to know what damage

A gun that size can do

They watch with scared hard eyes

In some, there is a youthful softness

Like young men in the states drafted

Before they know there are other options

And I wonder who decided who needs to be watched and who are the watchers

And maybe these soldiers like this service

Maybe duty and country are constructs

Only foreign to the descendants of former slaves

Maybe our service looks different

Maybe these soldiers like the power of being able to decide who come and goes

Who loves and lives and dies in an instance

The young girl dead from 5 bullets to the chest

Didn’t adjust

I watch Muslim woman both covered with a hijab and in skinny jeans and think there is something oddly beautiful about tradition with a modern twist

I wonder did her hijab come loose as her body hit the floor

Or was it wrapped so tightly it did not move

What moves here??

What is the currency?? Is it blood?? Is it nationalism? What is being held so tightly??


I have come to hear from living stones

Rocks that will cry out and yet there is something

Both holy and profane about this place


I write poems because they don’t have conclusions. They can end unfinished, with more questions and less that makes sense than articles or books or papers. Poems can live, as I try to, in gray spaces. Poems can live the questions. I wrote this poem on the second day of our trip to the Holy Land. It was the only one I wrote the entire time. This was my second time in the region and I tried to be more curious, ask more questions, see more joy, and be more present. I came back the first time upset and mad at the place that is my country because we are so complicit in the suffering of other people. I came back upset that people could see injustice in other places but not in their own backyards. I came back committed to be someone who changed the world around them by changing how they approached the world.

So going back would be a little easier for me, I thought. I could manage all my conflicting thoughts and feelings a bit better this time. Upon my return I realized that this trip has again changed me. It has demanded of me a life of more that I can no longer run from. It has asked me to do all the things I tried to do there, here at home (be more curious, ask more questions, see more joy, be more present), and the poems are not coming as easily. I think it’s a function of having experienced and trying to talk about something someplace, so holy and so profane. Language has limits when it comes to that kind of stuff. Its “complicated” is a place holder for not trying to offend or not knowing what to say. So living in the moment, being more present and and trying to see more joy is what I have.

Experiences have a way of leaving you open. The Holy Land did that for me. It left me open. Open to possibilities I had stopped dreaming of like what a world that works for everyone could actually look like. My experience on this trip has solidified one thing for me that how we do life, how things are structured currently leaves gapping holes. It leaves wounds. And we can’t see we are hurting, not complete and cut off from each other because to do so would require bold and honest action. Someone once said to me “maybe we can’t see each others divinity because we first can’t see each others humanity”. That stuck with me. That there is something divine in each of us begging to be seen and that our job as humans is to create the conditions to see others and be seen by them. In a place as holy and hard as The Holy Land, people are doing this.

The tour guide in Hebron who has a dangerous job because his tours expose the truth. The woman who works at the non-profit who allowed our group to pray with her. The tour guide in the old city who after a stabbing occurred wanted to still go on the tour as planned. The artist outside the temple who carefully refers to the place as a stolen mosque. The soldiers who allowed an elderly mans family to drive up to the Del Rosa to let him in the care so he doesn’t have to walk far. The children playing. The man who tells us fidget spinners were designed so his people wouldn’t throw rocks and says it with such absurdity that you feel embarrassed. All of it a form of resistance and holy and all of courageous and welcome. All of it allows us to deepens are understanding of the humanity and divinity of each person. All of it makes the conflict seem like it could be solved if we decided we wanted to solve it. and yes there are stories and truths and facts and dates and politics and resistance and right and wrong. But there are people, being and people who are living and loving and learning despite systems that tell them they are not wanted and people who are working for peace and connection and for that I am grateful to have been a witness.


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