‘Walk humbly with your God:’ we chose these beautiful words from the prophet Micah for my father’s tombstone. He well deserved them.
Micah’s words, which we read in the synagogue tomorrow, are among the most frequent of tributes to the dead. But what of living by them?
On the one hand it sounds simple, because Micah asks us to live with fairness and loving kindness, an open heart and no pretence.
On the other hand, it’s not simple at all. For how do I know where God is, in order for us to walk together? Maybe I passed God in the street? Maybe I absent-mindedly missed God, just as, absorbed in some distraction, I might fail to notice a friend or overshoot the turning I need?
When Jacob wakes up from his wonderful dream of the ladder reaching to heaven, he says to himself out loud: ‘God is in this place, and I didn’t realise.’
God is often in places, and people, and I haven’t realised.
I’m particularly mindful of such non-recognition, because this Shabbat we are celebrating Pride. Though it took place over thirty years ago, a conversation with a gay friend remains unforgettable. He spoke of his long struggle to accept himself as he truly was, (a struggle which some gay people, subject to crushing overt and covert pressures, have not survived), before concluding:
At last I was able to say, “Blessed are you, God, who made me in your image.”
‘I say it every day,’ he told me; ‘I say it joyfully.’
I believe in a God who enjoys that joy; in a God ‘shehasimchah bime’ono, in whose abode is joy;’ in a God who is present in each person, who needs us to recognise that presence in every person and who wants us to share their joy.
In trying to walk with God, I fear that most of us often go straight past. Perhaps we need to stop each other more often and say, quietly but firmly, ‘God is in this place.’
To walk humbly is to have a heart receptive both to sorrow and to joy. I often come across the story about the man who drinks a bit too much, then calls out loudly to the person opposite:
‘Hey, you, I’m your friend.’
The punchline is in the reply:
‘If you’re really my friend, tell me where I hurt!’
The story is intended to show the meaning of friendship. It does so, but inadequately. What’s missing is the other side of companionship:
‘And if you’re really, truly my friend, tell me also what makes me happy.’
In any community, a precondition for any person to feel comfortable, let alone happy, is to be included, appreciated, celebrated and offered a voice as who they are, both in sorrow and in happiness. According to a famous Mishnah, everyone needs to be able to say ‘For my sake the world was created.’ (Sanhedrin 4:5) If that is God’s will, how can it not be ours too?
I was going to write that I’m proud to celebrate Pride. But ‘proud’ is not the right word. I’d rather be humble in celebrating Pride. For the more we recognise the presence of God in each other and walk together, the better the world will be for us all and only by so doing can we follow Micah’s teaching
To do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God. (Micah 6:8)