“I watched the soldiers until they vanished further up the gorge—not entirely seeing them as they went—preoccupied by my own situation inside the cave behind me. I had been very fortunate the men inside had accepted my plan, but I couldn’t count on them doing so again; even if this plan had been a success, and though they could clearly see that I hadn’t tricked them.”
Father Davidson looked at each of us sitting around the fire. He continued: “You know for yourselves, each of you, how difficult it can be to assure another of your good intentions if they already mistrust you. What then, if this mistrust has been fed over many years by experiences of past deceptions, or worse, by malicious intent or betrayal? If this is the case, it can be nearly impossible to prove your sincerity to the one who has been abused; since every word you speak, and every action you take, is twisted and misconstrued to fit the role they have already given you as their enemy. I certainly hadn’t personally offended, nor mistreated, this particular group of men who were now waiting inside the cave, with pistols drawn, for my return; but others had done so in the past, and now I had to face the results of their malfeasance, like it or not.”
“Lord Jesus Christ, teach me to love as You love. This kind of love must bear abuse, and continue to love in spite of it; even loving more because of it. For what is behind every abuse? Fear, greed, anger…every kind of hurt—our abusers are hurting—hurting us, hurting each other, and hurting themselves. They hurt, and then do the irrational—instead of seeking to be healed—they add more hurt on top of what’s already there. Not everyone will love as Christ loves, but those who might, will be abused, He says so Himself.”
“I considered all of this, as I turned and entered the cave. God sends His rain on the abuser and the abused. I thought back to my recent prayers in the monastery, and the insight the vision of rain had shown me: a love that is impartial, abundant, and always present—without divisions, without prerequisites, and not based upon merit.”
“In the gloom I took my seat again, leaning stiffly against the cool rock, my muscles tense with anticipation, and my senses with heightened awareness. I looked around me and was surprised to see how few of us there actually were; in the pitch black of the preceding hours it had sounded sometimes as if there were far more men filling the cave, but in truth there were only five of us: myself, Avi, and our three captors. The oldest of the three was also the largest; he was a muscular man, with a short black beard and bright eyes. He appeared to be clever and reasonable, and possibly my best chance for further negotiations. The next looked to be several years younger, probably in his mid-twenties with a longer beard than the first, and with wild eyes and a hard expression on his face. I looked intently at this one, searching for something I could relate to, but there was nothing there in his eyes that I could easily understand. He moved his body with quick, violent, jerky motions that lacked a typical modulation or constraint that members of any society exercise with one another. He was either unaware of his surroundings and the people near to him, or he didn’t care. It appeared that space was too small for him, and time was too slow—this one was impulsive and dangerous. The last and youngest of the three was also the smallest; a skinny boy of about eighteen, with long straight black hair, partially covering his eyes and hanging to just above his shoulders. He looked out of place and unsure of everything around him. I smiled at him and he smiled back, but then looked startled and turned away from me. All three shared a similar shape of the nose, and each carried themselves with a similar air of uncertainty; and based on such rudimentary and superficial observations, my guess was that they were brothers, and inexperienced with kidnappings.”
“The oldest stood up and cautiously walked towards the mouth of the cave while the rest of us sat in silence. Avi whispered basic translations to me as our captors discussed their options. The middle brother argued to leave now, to go down into the gorge and walk just above the waterline back towards Ubeidiya, and hopefully we could stay hidden by vegetation along the way. The oldest dismissed this as foolishness and disdainfully added it would be impossible to cling to the cliffs all the way back to their home, we’d certainly fall into the water and be swept away. The middle one insisted we could do it and confidently, and also disdainfully, replied that he had done it himself several times in the past and it isn’t hard, and only cowards wouldn’t try it. But sensing that nobody believed his story, he ran towards the entrance of the cave and looked outside. Just then we all heard the faint but quickly growing sound of helicopters from somewhere overhead; their blades slicing through the air, thump, thump, thumping until the ground beneath us began to shake. ‘Get back in here!’ the eldest hissed at his younger brother. ‘Hurry! You idiot!’ The young man returned, clearly frightened by this new development, and the eldest dropped his head into his hands and closed his eyes, as if demoralized, and pressing his temples hard with his fingers as if to stimulate his thinking. I thought I could guess what he was thinking and I asked Avi to translate something to him for me: ‘You’ve lost your chance. It’s too late now. You should have made it all the way home last night, but the rain stopped you…you can’t make it now, not with Avi,” I gestured at Avi and looked intently at the oldest brother, “It isn’t safe, you will all be arrested, or worse…there are patrols now on all the trails, you’ve seen the helicopters, they won’t go away, there will be lookouts set up on the surrounding hills…there’s no cover, no hiding out here in the desert. You know I’m right.'”
“He turned his head towards me, and opened his eyes, looking at me with a sneer, and then angrily whispered, ‘God is with us! We will make it…somehow!’ I leaned in towards him and replied smiling, ‘yes, God is with you!’ And his expression changed from anger to confusion, and then to distrust, as he leaned back, looking me over with a questioning look on his face, and then he leaned back towards me and said, ‘so you know God, do you? What is He saying?’ I replied, ‘God sent the rain to protect you, because you are His beloved.’ His face looked surprised and he laughed, snorting, ‘Ha! Really?! I’m beloved?! Ha! Yes…that’s my life, the life of a beloved,’ he said sarcastically, as he goaded his brothers and they joined him in laughing and mocking me. ‘Well, man of God, tell me…if God loves us so much, how is He going to get us home now?!’ the oldest brother asked me with feigned delight and some underlying malice. I answered, ‘I will tell you, most surely, how you will get home now…and safely. You must let Avi go, there is no way you can be found with him. I know you need him…I understand you must have him to get what you want back home. But that can’t happen, not now…if you try…you will lose everything. No! You will let him go, and I will go with you, in his place. We won’t hide, we won’t cower, we won’t be afraid of anyone. We will simply walk, in broad daylight back to your home…you and I…and then you will get what you want. The Israelis won’t stop us, in fact, they may even help us.’ The brothers listened to me intently, the youngest was most excited and happy by what I told them, while the others had mixed reactions: doubt, disgust, defiance, defeat, hope, and then the oldest fell into a quiet reverie; I could see he was seriously considering what I had said. He looked questioningly at me out of the corner of his eye, as he continued to wrestle with his thoughts. He looked between Avi and me, weighing our usefulness, and then he stared out towards the mouth of the cave. We all could still hear the sound of the helicopters in the far distance, quieter, yet still present and threatening. ‘Okay,’ he finally replied, ‘we will do this.’ The middle brother let out a harsh and guttural moan and yelled an obscenity or two, but didn’t fight the older brother’s decision; however, his countenance grew more dark and menacing, if that were possible. The eldest continued, ‘we will wait for dark tonight, and then let him go,’ he nodded in Avi’s direction, ‘and then we will leave tomorrow morning.’ He looked me in the eyes and threatened, ‘if you trick us, if this doesn’t work, we’ll throw you off the cliff.’ Then he smiled, and laughed sarcastically, ‘then we can see if God loves you too…as much as he loves us!” The three brothers laughed together once again, and then we all sat in silence waiting for night to arrive.
* * *