When I was in Palestine 6 years ago now, I bought a little resource called The Spirit of Sumud: Resilience, Grace and Beauty in Palestine. It was a packet of pictures and text based on a photography exhibit. The pictures displayed Palestinian life: significant village moments, the landscape, farming practices and flowers, religious places and the struggle for freedom. The preface to the depictions said this, “This collection isn’t meant to document the restrictions (faced by Palestinians in the Occupied Territories) but rather to convey the deep spirit and the way of life which Palestinians retain while facing hardship. This spirit—often called Sumud or steadfastness, persistence and determination—expresses the silent pride of a people who despite all odds continue to live connected with their land and celebrate its grace and cultural beauty.”
Within the text describing the photographs, it says, “What is Sumud? Sumud, one could say, is having a deep or ‘long breath.’ Like the monks had. Or travellers should have while waiting for hours at a Checkpoint. The expression ‘long breath’ was coined by the Reverend Mitri Raheb of the Christmas Church in Bethlehem and director of the International Center (Dar al-Nadwa) located next to it.”
Sumud was a word that was used a lot by the Sabeel guide, Omar Haramy, and by the then Executive Director of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Centrein Jerusalem and Nazareth, the Rev. Naim Ateek. It is a word that I appreciate and have applied in many different situations. Taking a “long breath” or being steadfast in those moments that need patience, resilience and grace.
Sumud is what Jesus taught. Sumud is what those first 72 disciples had because they had nothing else—no bag, no money, 1 set of clothes. Sumud is what Jesus lived and embodied when he faced a hostile authority in Rome and from the Temple leaders. The concept of Sumud is the same idea contained in Psalm 30, the same idea conveyed in what many face today in terms of the long arc of justice as Martin Luther King, Jr, referred to the struggle for freedom and justice.
People experiencing health challenges or changes to a life situation need Sumud; they need to take the “long breath.” And we can find it deep down. We find it when we wrap ourselves in a prayer shawl if we’ve had occasion to receive one. We find it when we lay our burdens down to a close and dear friend or a confidant. We find it when we face our challenges and look for solutions. We find it in community together.
There is currently a study going on by a group of people affiliated with the United Church. It is a study that is designed to show what a community or neighbourhood would be like if the United Church didn’t exist. It’s kind of along the lines of that Christmas movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, starring Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore and directed by Frank Capra. What would the small town that Stewart’s character lived in be like if he weren’t part of it? Our Church Board looked at this study, but they wanted money to participate and we chose not to do so. It is an interesting question: What would Nelson be like if Nelson United Church weren’t part of it?
I leave this question for you to ponder. I admit that it is a bit of a fanciful question and could easily lead to a lack of humility and pride of place. But it raises the deeper question of how we reflect the steadfast love of God with resilience, grace and beauty in our community.
Church leaders, both within our own denomination and others, point to thriving communities as places of resilience, grace and beauty. Thriving communities are living Sumud—steadfastness and hope. Churches are called to be Islands of Sanity—as Margaret Wheatley writes about—not about churches per se, but about the fact that every society needs Islands of Sanity to be places where people can gather and cultivate a sense of hope as well as the values of resilience, grace and beauty. Too many organizations that helped make our societies around the world hope-filled and just societies are giving up in despair, including churches. I hope that this is what people find here: hope for living a life of resilience, grace and beauty… as well as a community of people committed to embodying God’s love while following Jesus’ Way, as our Purpose Statement says.
We may not be like those 72 who went out two-by-two with very little in the way of resources. But they sowed seeds of Sumud. They espoused the grace and beauty that Jesus envisioned for God’s Kin-Dom. They invited others to see the beauty in life. In today’s world, we have all kinds of resources at our disposal to point to the beauty of life in spite of the challenges we face. But deep down, we are the same as those early disciples; we have nothing really, but the promise of the love of our God, the love of a community of followers, the love of the Christ who lives in us, the gift of the Spirit that breathes through us in the ‘long breath,’ the steadfast sense of being part of something that is committed to the long arc of justice and love, and the grace to be a presence in this community of hope and compassion.
Those are good things to celebrate on our anniversary Sunday.