When I was about 5 we lived in Egypt, in Nicosia Villas in Fayid. Nicosia is in Cyprus so I have no idea why that name was decided upon… maybe I’ve misremembered it…. anyway… we were there for about two action packed years on the banks of the Suez Canal; I discovered fairies under my swing (dew drops on the sand which evaporated thus proving to me that the fairies had gone home, like night workers). We travelled to school in ten-ton open-back army trucks with machine gun escorts. I had my first boyfriend, Barry, an officer’s son (already reaching for the stars) with a huge shiny forehead and blonde blonde hair. My father was run over by men who had stolen a British Army vehicle, but they panicked that they might not have killed him so they backed over him … and drove off again ( fortunately, returning from a night in the sergeant’s mess, he was so drunk that he didn’t even go into shock, and wore a metal plate in his head with pride for the rest of his very long life.) We lived in a bungalow in the middle of cornfields, and every day a woman and her son would drive their goats along our track to their home, a mile away. She delighted in lifting her yashmak up to wiggle her long black loose teeth at us. Yikes! The Yashmak was an amazing thing – like a piece of chain mail, festooned by discs of metal, medals, badges, glinting in the sun. It must have weighed heavy. We would wait around, dying to see her, both horrified and intrigued by those loose black gnashers. Here she is, in a photo taken by my brother:
I don’t know why she delighted in frightening us – maybe she understood that our squeals of fear were half joyous, and she responded to our childishness. Or maybe she hated the Brits (most people I grew up with did) and enjoyed frightening us. Anyway, there she is, a memory of Egypt.
And it was there that my mother began to experience double vision, the first sign of the brain tumour that would kill her. So, my memories of Egypt may be childish but they’re not peaceful.
The Middle East has always been, and remains, for everyone, a troubled and war torn region. When Jesus walked the earth, Romans occupied Israel, the people longed for an uprising, but because of the hated common enemy, the cruel rule of Rome, the many tribes of the region tolerated each other (barely) after centuries of bloodshed. The Old Testament charts the history of wars between tribes, and even inside tribes, the chaos and fear and lack of peace in the Middle East. When I lived in Egypt I was a 5 year old girl, but still I was part of an empire ruling a foreign people against their will. We were there to keep the Suez Canal open, and yes, we were unwelcome. Why was my Dad run over three times? Because we were hated and resented and the enemy’s life is cheap.
The Middle East now is in an even worse state – think of Israel under bombardment from Palestine, Palestinians robbed of their lands and freedom, Syria a living hell, civil war in the Yemen, the rise of Isis, the Iraqi insurgency, the plight of the Kurds, the rise of Sharia law….. if there’s one area of the world to whom the word ‘PEACE’ is a balm and a dream and a hope, it’s the Middle East.
So, why am I yammering on about this? Well, we’ve been thinking about peace a whole lot in our church, about what it means to know the peace of God, and today we thought about having not only the peace of God but the God of peace in us, and us in Him.
I wonder if we really grasp what the absence of peace does to us? I think that if you’re an Army brat of my generation, you probably have a better idea than most. I grew up with soldiers, guns, curfews, images of hatred, stones thrown, spat at, barbed wire, guard dogs. If it wasn’t the Egyptian uprising it was Eoka and if it wasn’t either of them it was the IRA.
So, I know how precious peace is. And I think I know what it meant to those early Christians. And I know, therefore, by extension what it means to my soul.
Without peace, we have no rest. Even our sleep is light and troubled.
Without peace, we have no growth. Look at any war torn country to see the failing crops, the broken infrastructure.
Without peace, we have no health. Mentally, physically, socially, spiritually, we are damaged.
Without peace, there’s no love. Enmity doesn’t know love.
If we have no peace….. do we have God?
I’ve loved our recent thoughts at church about peace and joy. They help us to understand the wisdom of Jesus, with what care and sharp-shooter accuracy He chose His words, what an amazing impact they had on His listeners. I wonder if we yet fully, fully grasp the enormity of the gift Jesus is holding out to us? If we can ever totally understand it, as He meant it, in our comfortable Western lives? If we took the gift of peace to poor, destroyed, bleeding Syria, we would see people falling to their knees in gratitude and elation… lives instantly transformed, families mended, futures reclaimed…. and maybe then we’d understand the peace Jesus brings.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. John 14:27