Mark Twain wrote a satirical piece in Innocents Abroad about traveling to Jerusalem and visiting the Tomb of Adam in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre:
The tomb of Adam! How touching it was, here in a land of strangers, far away from home, and friends, and all who cared for me thus to discover the grave of a blood relation. True, a distant one, but still a relation. The unerring instinct of nature thrilled in recognition. The fountain of my filial affection was stirred to its profoundest depths, and I gave way to tumultuous emotion. I leaned upon a pillar and burst into tears.
This soliloquy became world famous, and Americans began to visit Adam’s Tomb not because of its religious meaning, but because it was the place where Twain had skewered superstition.
This was a very healthy development and points out the road to peace for that part of the world today. Let me explain.
At the root of the problem today in Israel/Palestine is the land issue. Some of it has to do with who will live where, who will control water rights, and who will farm which plots of land—Gordian knots that only a sword will cut, in all likelihood because these are issues of justice and the lack thereof. But in addition to those are issues over sacred sites. The Temple Mount is the holiest site for the Jewish people, the place where God created Adam out of dust, where Abraham almost sacrificed Isaac, and where Solomon built his temple. It is also the place called the Haram al-Sharif where Mohammed ascended into heaven. People commune with their God at these sites and feel it is a sacrilege to permit any infidels to worship their God—that Other God—that false God–at the same spot. It would be a great step forward in human history to get over this. Of course we will always associate historical events with the site on which they took place, but there will only ever be peace if we can disassociate “God” –whatever we mean by that elusive term—with certain intersections of longitude and latitude, to free God, as it were, and find the Holy Spirit everywhere, in everything and everybody.
Let’s release God and God’s prophets from certain soils and certain buildings of the past, bound to certain religions, and instead build Gardens of Peace and Sacramental Spaces open to all. An Episcopal priest, Father Lyndon Harris, is already hard at work on a similar project , Gardens of Forgiveness, with some other impressive people. These spaces should be places where everyone can come to meditate, to walk, to find common ground and build a more peaceful world.
It can’t be denied that we seem to have a need for sacred places: that’s why we bury people and return to their graves with flowers. We miss them and want to connect in some way. Our cemeteries are filling up, however. We need to find the sacred everywhere, to cremate and scatter the ashes, finding the connections to our loved ones and the divine in other living human beings and in the wonders of the natural world. We need to give up on the Tomb of Adam and find the sacred in his living descendants, our cousins all over the globe who are suffering from injustice or accidents of birth that place them in poverty through no fault of their own.