An open hand to hold God in.

On my trip to Lebanon I was privileged to hear the Ambassador from the Vatican–who my excellent book on the American Foreign Service calls the “nuncio of the Holy See”–speak to a group of high school students from schools run by the Al-Mukasad foundation.

Photo Credit: Katy Dickinson

The Pope was encouraging people to live in peace; nowhere that I have been is the evidence what not keeping the peace entails more evident than in Beirut. The underlying tension in the assembly was that the Pope’s statement, which the mostly trilingual students had read in both Arabic and English, was critical of Muslims for 1) threatening Christians, 2) not being Christians. I do not believe this was the intention, but any time a representative of one faith asks adherents of another to behave in a certain way, conversations can get tense.

The Ambassador addressed these tensions with a metaphor. He asked if the audience has little brothers or sisters, who like to take, take, take. They see something in the house, and they snatch it with their hands. He described that grabbing motion as the opposite of how we must approach God. We must place our hands palm up for God to fill.

He spoke of God as water, that we cannot grab water but must use open hands to accept it.

Photo Credit: Katy Dickinson
Photo Credit: Katy Dickinson

Later in the program, he was discussing how people of different backgrounds and of different faiths can serve God. He held out his hand again, and said to think of each person as a finger. If the fingers are apart from each other, the hand cannot hold water, cannot hold God. Only through unity can all people hold God within themselves.

Though the Vatican has been in the news lately for some very earthly issues it was a pleasant and grounding reminder of the spiritual center and commitment of those who serve it. It also reminded me that a diplomat can use a strong metaphor, a smiling face, and a willingness to truly listen to criticism to build bridges even in the tensest of rooms.

Inspirational Quote:

“These truths on Jordan’s banks were shown
By mighty word and wonder.
The Father’s voice from heaven came down,
Which we do well to ponder:
“This man is my beloved Son,
In whom my heart has pleasure.
Him you must hear, and Him alone,
And trust in fullest measure
The word that He has spoken.”–To Jordan’s River Came Our Lord


  1. Thank you for a good summary of the excellent presentation we attended at Makassed in Beirut. I was particularly moved that the Muslim and Christian high school students in the audience, who were classmates and had grown up together, questioned (in French, English, and Arabic) the seriousness of the religious divide in the first place. It felt more like a friendly discussion by fans of rival sports teams rather than deadly enemies.

    I was given a copy of the original document “Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Medio Oriente of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI to the Pariarchs, Bishops, Clergy, Consecrated Persons and the Lay Faithful on the Church in the Middle East: Communion and Witness” but I found the talk of His Eminence Bishop Caccia more approachable and encouraging in its simplicity: we can only know God by offering our whole selves, our lives, and asking for God to rest in our open cupped hand of welcome.

    It was such an honor and pleasure to travel with my daughter!

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