Paradoxical peace

Every morning before we get in the saddle we have a group prayer—it’s a prayer ride, after all—that ends with this traditional Jewish prayer:

May it be pleasing in your sight, O Lord our God and God of our fathers, to send us forth in peace and to direct us in peace and to make a way for us to peace and to bring us to our desired haven in life and joy and peace.

Drenched in peace we took off on the road from Tel Dan and soon turned south down the Huleh Valley, green and lush with the three rivers that join to form the Jordan; Dan, Snir, and Banyas. The sky was moist and gray, the fields lush green, with wheat and barley ripening, purple wild flowers and yellow mustard by the road side, and the grassy hills of the Golan Heights off to the east. After cruising through this scene for a while we entered a stretch of road lined by eucalyptus trees on both sides, which created a sort of silvery-green tunnel through this landscape of peace.

I remembered a tour guide telling us years back that eucalyptus trees had been planted along some stretches of road in this area in the days when Syria occupied the Golan Heights, and used them as a vantage point to lob artillery fire down at the Israelis. The trees would hide the movements of Israeli military equipment, so that it didn’t become a target for the Syrians. Sure enough, as I was thinking about those days before 1967 when this part of Israel was so vulnerable, a couple of massive military trucks drove down the other side of the road.

Peace, as the prayer that repeats the word four times makes clear, is the desire of our hearts. To simply describe the land as peaceful captures its impact and beauty perhaps better than any one single word. Yet peace has always been elusive for this land, not just in our times but throughout the days of the Torah and Prophets as well. Messiah is called Shiloh, a word echoing Shalom or peace, and the Prince of Peace, who alone will finally bring peace.

Our ride yesterday turned to the west after going about 15 miles down the Huleh Valley. After a few miles, we got on the steep and twisting road up to the city of Tsfat (Safed), over 2000 feet above the valley floor. After making the climb and checking into our rooms, we drove down to Tiberias for dinner at the edge of the Sea of Galilee. Again, a place of palpable peace. There aren’t any eucalyptus-lined roads right there, but it was of course the scene of earlier conflict stirred up by the work of the Prince of Peace kinnerethimself.

So, in this age peace will always be paradoxical and incomplete, and likely to stir up as much conflict as it resolves. But it’s still worth pursuing and praying for, and I hope that will be a vital part of our ride.

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