Torah sings in our aloneness too

I wish everyone, all the family of our community and all our friends, Chag Sameach.

Shavuot celebrates the most important relationships at the heart of Judaism, with Torah and God. Through three thousand years of history these have been bonds love, frustration, companionship, incomprehension, solace and joy. Neither degradation and death in the Crusades and the Holocaust, nor life with its allures and strange turnings, have parted us. These are relationships of unbroken collective resilience.

This year we celebrate alone what has always been a night of learning followed by a joyful communal service with Hallel and flowers. This strange circumstance leads me to pondering two very different pictures of Torah.

The first is Chagall’s painting Solitude. Copyright prevents me from including it, but here’s a link.

In the background is a village with towers and steeples covered in dark cloud, possibly smoke from a pogrom or fire. In the left foreground sits an elderly Jew, sorrowful and lonely. He holds a Torah scroll loosely against his heart. Balancing him in the right foreground is a calf, with a sweet face and a violin. They both appear to be outcasts. Yet they each have their music: the calf with her bow and instrument and the Jew with the Torah. I imagine that Torah singing quietly beneath its red cover, as in the Psalm-verse: ‘Your statutes have become my songs’ in the houses of my pilgrimage. In contrast to the dark earth and louring sky, a white angel shares brightness with the old man’s tallit and the gentle calf. There’s yet hope.

In just this way we hold the Torah to our heart because it’s been our music through all generations. When it sings to us, the calves, birds, mountains and valleys sing too. For, despite the testament of history, there is a sacred music half-hidden in all life. ‘Shema, listen,’ hear it and heed it, is Judaism’s simplest, most enduring injunction. This is the Torah of our aloneness.

The other picture is a work of art of a different kind. Last year in our synagogue after Simchat Torah we gathered all the families shortly to celebrate a Bat or Bar Mitzvah in a huge semi-circle. We unrolled a (printed) Torah scroll, which stretched all the way round the group, so that every child sat next to his or her special portion. It was beautiful, and fun. This is the Torah of community and joy.

Torah is with us both in our togetherness and our aloneness.

But togetherness and aloneness meet. I imagine the far end of the Torah scroll, invisible, hidden in the mystery of void and timelessness, held by the unknowable mystery of God. Then I envision Moses holding up the parchment, with Rabbi Akiva a millennium later, then Yehudah Halevi the poet and Maimonides, the philosopher and legalist, a thousand years after that. Four centuries later the mystics of Sefat sing Lecha Dodi as they hold up the parchment, and three hundred years later still the Rebbe of the Warsaw Ghetto, raising his arms and spirit to keep the holy text above the flames. Now that scroll reaches us, and it and all our generations call out to our heart. We’re never truly alone when we’re with Torah.

I imagine too a great song with innumerable parts, wind scores and bird scores, child scores and old persons’ scores. Often we don’t hear them, but they all in their different voices sing God’s song, that life is precious and sacred, and that no one and nothing doesn’t matter.

Our bond with Torah is our life’s song too.

Chag Sameach and Shabbat Shalom

A Different Night

This is written in haste on the eve of an exceptionally different night, at a bewildering and frightening time.

First and foremost, I wish everyone a good and safe festival.

Pesach means gratitude for deliverance. Words are insufficient to express our thankfulness to the NHS, to everyone caring, filling shop shelves, delivering food and medicines, helping the nation keep fit, supporting our morale and giving us strength in adversity. In the words of the Psalm, ‘May the work of your hands be blessed.’ Thank you, and thank you again!

When we sit at the table for the Seder tonight, when we open the Haggadah, however few we may be, even it is just me, or you, we must not think that we are alone. With us is Moses, leading the Children of Israel to freedom. Nearer us on our table sits Rabbi Akiva with his colleagues, debating liberty, dignity and justice until break of day. Yet nearer are our grand- or great-grandparents, who fled Nazism, escaped tyranny and fought for freedom across the earth. Surrounding us are women and men of all peoples who have found in this great story of liberty their hope, inspiration and courage. All of you, invisible as you are, are close by and with us, holding our hands, strong inside our hearts.

Your strength is our strength; your resilience and faith is our faith and resilience. Together we partake of, and dedicate ourselves to, the unfailing spirit of humanity in our struggle against illness, in our fight against injustice, in our respect for God’s world, and in the inexhaustible capacity to turn to each other in times of need with generosity, understanding, kindness, healing and love.

Therefore, let this Seder be a night of affirmation and celebration.

We affirm and celebrate life itself, the precious gift of breathing, the ability to stand, stretch out, take steps, may God protect it in every one of us.

We celebrate, even as we treasure it more deeply in its absence, the freedom to move, to walk in whichever direction, to seek liberty and to work for that same liberty for those who suffer under persecution, until, in Isaiah’s words, we ‘Give food to the hungry, clothe the naked and break the bonds of oppression.’

We celebrate love and friendship, even as in their absence we are more intensely aware than ever of those we love, those for whose companionship we long, and those whose listening heart we need, as the beloved says in the Song of Songs: O my companions, listen to me; let me hear your voice.’

We celebrate the value and dignity of life, all life together, in this wondrous, interdependent, fragile, precious world. We honour the life and dignity of every human being, and the lives, may God protect them, of those we love.

Do not imagine you are utterly alone. Thought, with its secret powers, knows how to navigate heart-space. Our words and songs join with the voices of our ancestors of three thousand years, and with those of many peoples. Together we shall speak and we shall sing, we shall pray and we shall learn, until the birdsong heralds the new dawn – of life and hope and joy

 

The lights of Chanukah: inner illumination, public values

It’s not just the presents, the chocolate coins and the doughnuts which make Chanukah so many people’s favourite festival. It’s the lights.

The Chanukah candles represent the most inward and most outward of illuminations. They are both our inner light and the light we owe each other, our society and the world.

‘The human spirit is a lamp of God,’ quotes one of my favourite Hasidic teachers, Rebbe Yehudah Aryeh-Leib of Ger. The single, seemingly insufficient jar of pure olive oil the Maccabees found amidst the ruins of the Jerusalem temple symbolises to him ‘the tiny point’ of purity and holiness which exists in every human being. This point may be small but it is incorruptible, despite all life’s challenges and temptations. Its flame can never be extinguished, because the light with which it burns comes from God.

Hence, in typical Hasidic fashion, the Rebbe creatively misreads the Torah’s command to Aaron, who is charged with kindling the lamps on the Menorah in the Temple. What the Torah says is ‘When you cause the flames to ascend.’ What the Torah really means, he explains, is ‘You must cause your light to ascend’, words addressed not just to Aaron but to every single person, always.

It is often far from easy to find our own inner light. Anxiety, the ceaseless noise of endless interactions, make it hard for us to find recourse to our deeper inner selves. Often, there’s just too much to do, the opportunity simply isn’t there. At other times, sorrow or confusion hover like thick clouds between our harried minds and the stillness we can’t access in our hearts.

That’s why I love the small lights of Chanukah. Just looking at them can help us find the way back.

Frequently, though, we need the help of others, just as the candles on the Chanukiah have to be lit by a shammash. Time and again it’s acts of kindness, generous insights, a word of appreciation, an image from a poem, which illumine the world for me, re-opening the path to my own spirit.

Yet, intimate as our inner lights may be, the rabbis of the Talmud stipulated that the Chanukiah on which they burn must be placed overlooking the reshut harabbim, the busiest public highway. To the mystics those inner flames are loving kindness, moral strength, truth, constancy, beauty and commitment. They are nurtured by faith in life, trust in God, and hope.

It is not enough to reflect on them in solitude. We must use them to light the high roads, back alleys, porches where the homeless try to sleep, chambers where politicians legislate, – all those places, hidden and in plain sight, which define us as a society and world. We have a public duty to contribute from the heart, to shine light both on our own conscience and on that of our entire society, and to act according to what we see.

Chanukah is not only the festival of light, but also of courage, the determination to live according to the values which God’s light illumines in our souls.

 

Walking the Moonlit Walk

There is a custom among mystics to observe one’s moon-shade on the night of Hoshana Rabba (the Great Hoshana). You have to find a field or forest far from light-pollution and walk with the moon behind you, observing how it casts your shadow at your feet.

The date is significant because Hoshana Rabba is regarded as the day when the books of destiny are finally sealed. One wears white; the liturgy is an after-echo of the melodies of the Days of Awe; the greeting is Gmar Tov, ‘a good conclusion: May you be included in the book of a good life and good deeds’. The service ends with seven circuits of the synagogue chanting our hopes for humanity, nature, the very earth itself and the ultimate Jerusalem when peace will settle over the face of the globe. The chorus is always Hoshana, ‘Save!’ Hence the name Hoshana Rabba.

Hoshana Rabba begins this Saturday night and the weather forecast for London is mediocre, in case anyone does fancy that midnight moonlit adventure. The more compete your shadow, the fuller your year will be.

The fact that I don’t believe in such superstitious myths, and even regard them as spiritually dangerous, has proved insufficient to prevent me from sometimes following the dark night path. (Maybe I should regard this as a mere by-product of walking the dog. And what can be bad about a night-walk among the moon-shadows of the trees with a dog for company?)

For, though I deplore the custom if taken literally, as a metaphor I find it deeply significant.

The danger with literalism is that it presupposes a God who lengthens or shortens our days according to some inscrutable criterion of divine justice. Life contains too much patent unfairness for it to be possible, to me at least, to believe in such a deity. Nor do I want anyone to feel that the losses, sorrows and fears which life invariably entails, though distributed in unequal measure, are necessarily our just deserts. Life is often cruel.

But as a metaphor the night-lit wander on Hoshana Rabba shines into my conscience. The High Holydays are behind us now. What light do they cast on the path before me in the year ahead? What kind of me do they project into the footsteps of the future?

I have listened to much beauty: music and words two thousand years-old which directed my ancestors’ lives: ‘Open your heart’, ‘Remember; be aware!’ ‘Write for life with the God of life’.

I have heard much wisdom from many people: we’ve debated the nature of truth and the moral centrality of integrity and accountability; we’ve spoken about love of the world and our urgent responsibility towards nature, trees, even bees; we’ve discussed the plight of refugees, families fleeing persecution, women trying to escape societies which fail to protect them from abuse.

These responsibilities and truths now shine on my path ahead, outlining in shadow form who I might be, what I could, should, might do with this precious next year of life: Will I care enough? Will I be kind? Will be a planter or uprooter? Will I have the integrity to follow the example of other people’s light, or the courage to step forward where the path is yet unlit?

The God I believe in speaks to the heart, breathing into it wonder, love, honesty and courage. Will we listen in the year ahead? Will we walk the walk?

 

Why Succot may be even more important today than Yom Kippur

Succot is a first Jewish memory; my father was a wonderful Succah maker. My family have inherited his booth-building passion.

If Yom Kippur takes us up to heaven, Succot brings us down to earth. If Yom Kippur leads us to the Holy of Holies of the spirit, Succot reconnects us with the soil.

Long before the building of huts with sheaves and leaves and branches became associated with our ancestors’ forty years of wandering in the wilderness, Succot was an ancient harvest festival.

‘Festival’ may not be the right word; succot, booths or shelters, were a farming necessity in lands where the sun beat relentlessly onto the fields. Thus, the first mention of a succah in the Bible has nothing to do with what we now call Tabernacles; it refers to the shelters Jacob built to allow his cattle to rest in the shade.

It is just this earthiness which makes me love and respect the festival.

Succot is a celebration of our bond with the earth, a festival of gratitude. To ensure we experience it personally, Nicky and I have long chosen seeds, tended the young plants, watched them grow and, if they thrived, ensured we left the last pickings of beans and courgettes, kohlrabi and pumpkins, for the Succah. Last year we even had just one home-grown watermelon (the magic size of a tennis ball) to share among our 27 guests in miniature slices.

We were only following ancient custom: the Talmud refers to hanging sheaves of corn, flasks of wine and plums (or their equivalent) in the festival booth. These basic foodstuffs were eloquent with a directness our supermarket generation has half-forgotten: ‘Thank you for the gifts of the soil. Without the rain, the insects, and the right weather we could not live’.

For, as the festival prayers make clear, we are utterly dependent. The two-thousand-year-old chants were not written in remote academies. They were composed by farmer-poets who knew the land, understood in the stomach the meaning of flood and drought: ‘Save man and beast, restore the soil, protect the trees which shelter us from desolation, O God who holds the world suspended over the void’. (I shared this text at the Succah in Trafalgar Square last night.)

This awareness of dependence underlines the bond not just between humans and nature, but also between ourselves, as families, communities and faiths.

‘Hide me in your Succah during evil days’, goes the Psalm. It sounds like a bad prayer. What could be a worse place to hide than a hut of sticks and branches? But that’s the point. True safety in any society is not when we need bunkers, but when we can dwell together, outside, protected only by the thin walls of makeshift celebratory huts because we understand that we will all only survive if we recognise together the shared gifts of this earth.

That is precisely what isn’t happening today, when only the strong doors of the synagogue in Halle kept the attacker out, and when he vented his rage on unprotected passers-by.

If I had to choose, I might say that our world needs the teachings of Succot even more urgently than those of Yom Kippur.

 

Saying sorry

On the eve of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, we must make our peace with one another. The Shulchan Aruch, the code of Jewish Law composed by Joseph Caro in the middle of the sixteenth century in Safed, devotes a whole section to this difficult subject.

We should apologise even if we only hurt the other person with words. If we caused them loss or other quantifiable harm, we need to make good. If our sincere apology is not initially accepted, we should offer it a second and a third time.

To withhold acceptance of an apology is considered hard-hearted, unless the wrong inflicted on us is grievous and beyond healing. Even then, though, says the Shulchan Aruch, it is an act of mercy and kindness to receive an honest and remorseful apology with good grace. It is worth remembering Nelson Mandela’s counsel that to hold on to resentment and bitterness is like drinking a cup of poison and expecting our opponent to die.

I’m often asked what to do if it’s difficult or impossible to offer our apology face-to-face. We want to come clean with both the person we have hurt and with our own conscience. But sometimes that person is not accessible to us.

If he or she is no longer alive, the tradition is to speak our heart at the graveside. If life has driven us apart through a painful shared history no one is eager to revisit, or if we have uttered disparaging words but the other person is not necessarily aware of this, we can only speak truth to our own heart and to God, or to a trusted friend, and resolve to learn for the sake of the future. What we are not entitled to do is to hurt another person further (‘You may not remember, but…’) in order to salve our own conscience. Life, sadly, usually has unfinished business.

All that said, this is not primarily the way I feel about these days before Yom Kippur. Rather, I experience them as precious days, days of appreciation. I think about my family, especially my wife and children. Somehow, the heightened sense of life’s fragility, of the brief, wonderful, uncertain privilege of time, of each holiday and ordinary day shared, deepens my awareness of them. What goes through my heart is gratitude, the wish to acknowledge what I owe to them, and to my friends, to my community, to tens of people whom I have encountered, whose poetry I have taken to heart.

Apology follows, in thought more often than word. I regret the ways I have hurt you.

I imagine my reactions are typical.

Then our ‘I’m sorry’, flows from love as in Naomi Shemer’s song ‘I haven’t loved enough’: ‘I haven’t told you, appreciated you, given back to you or life, enough’. Thus sorrow and remorse become part not only of contrition but of blessing, for a beautiful but deeply challenging world which urgently needs our faithful loving kindness and enduring care.

Gmar Chatimah Tovah

Life’s categorical imperative

For whatever we lose (like a you or a me),
It’s always our self we find in the sea.

These much-loved lines by EE Cummings could also describe Yom Kippur. For the Day of Atonement is a sea, a chance to wash ourselves until we find our most real self again, our truest, deepest self. I don’t know if the sea is the music and the waves the words of prayer, or if the sea is consciousness itself and music the tide which carries it in to the heart.

Shuvah means return. ‘Come home’, says God, ‘Come back to me.’ The voice which calls out to us, so I believe, is not that of some bleak moraliser, a spoiler at life’s dance who halts the music with a long list of don’ts. The voice is the call of life itself: ‘Hear me; see me. Have you noticed those amber leaves? That sky?’ If there are don’ts, they are simply these: don’t ignore me, don’t hurt me, don’t destroy me. (Simply these? Imperatively, categorically these!)

‘Return’ is the call chai ha’chaim, the very life of life, the call of God within life. Since that life is inside you and me, who are at this moment privileged with the wondrous, irreplaceable gift of life, the call to return comes not just from without but from within us. It is my own soul’s longing to belong to life, to be at one with and love life, as a child hugs her dog to her heart, wanting only to be inseparable forever.

‘Return’ is God’s call from inside my heart, as the Psalmist wrote ‘Lecha amar libbi’, loosely translatable as ‘my heart is You speaking’.

Kalonymus Kalman Shapira, one of the great spiritual teachers of the last century, not only because of his unvanquished courage in the Warsaw Ghetto, but because of his encompassing compassion and insight, taught that the Ten Days of Penitence are not, or at least not just, about repenting of specific sins. This we should do promptly, whenever we become aware of our mistakes and transgressions. Rather, these days are the longed-for opportunity to answer the heart’s call, God’s call, to cleanse our very consciousness in the One to which we belong.

What is that One, that sea, where I both lose and find myself? It is the essence of life, the oneness which unites all life and to which all life belongs. Therefore, it calls from everything; we can hear it everywhere and anywhere. It calls in the woodpecker half upside-down at the seed-feeder, and in the goldfinch waiting timidly in the queue. It calls from the sorrow of friends who lost their mother this week. It calls from the long line of men, women and children-in-buggies at the Drop-In, seeking support, solidarity, asylum, hope, future. It calls in the children’s protests: don’t destroy our future.

What difference does it make to bathe our consciousness in life’s sea, in the ocean of the presence of God? Our mind already knows the answer: I belong to life and am at life’s service. I am not here to hurt, uproot, exploit, destroy; I am here to tend, heal, plant, nurture, cherish, love and care. I am not here just for me, but to fulfil myself in life’s service.

Our mind knows. But when we are actually in that sea, our heart knows too. It absorbs the knowledge into its very depths and disburses it into the arteries which feed all our actions.

That, in this eleventh hour, must make all the difference.

 

‘It wasn’t me’ – On Teshuvah and remorse

Few of us find it easy to say the simple words, ‘I’m sorry. I was wrong.’ They’re humiliating. They taste like cowardice and feel like defeat. But the real failure of courage probably lies in the inability to get them over our lips.

Maimonides explains that the true penitent ‘changes his name, as if to say, “I’m different now; I’m not the same person as the man who did those deeds”.’

There are two ways to read those words. They can sound like denial: ‘Me? Do that? It can’t have been me. The real me, the me as I like to think of me, never does things like that.’ We may well manage to convince ourselves, maintaining the fiction of who we fancy ourselves to be, while our actual deeds run along after us, calling out vainly in the voices of those we’ve ignored and bruised but who never quite manage to catch the attention of our conscience.

What Maimonides means to say is clearly the opposite: ‘I’m truly different now. I’ve struggled with what I did; I’ve learnt from it and I’ve changed.’

This is heart-work and it’s hard. It takes honesty and courage.

The Torah opens a beautiful short section on Teshuvah, return or repentance, with a simple but telling clause: vahasheivotah el levavecha. It’s often translated as ‘You shall lay this to your heart’, yet it can equally mean ‘Take yourself back to your heart’.

That is where the journey of Teshuvah, return, has to start. It may be prompted by remorse of a specific action. For example, someone once told me, ‘I never believed I was capable of hitting another person. I was utterly shocked by what I’d done.’ During the London riots, many people were horrified afterwards by the thefts they themselves had, in the heat and incitement of the moment, committed.

Remorse occurs when we find the honesty and courage to bring our actions to the awareness of our heart and say and feel: ‘I did’. It’s a deeply uncomfortable experience.

Yet it’s also a moment of hope. For now the resolve to learn, do better, become a better person, the best person we are capable of being, is not merely a thought or general intention. It glows in the core of our being; burns with a fire which has the power to transform the memory of those very actions of which we feel most ashamed into our most powerful teachers for the future. We never, ever want to do the same again. We have learnt, in our very gut and soul.

Teshuvah, the belief in our capacity to change, to ‘return’ to being the person we want to and can be, is a profound affirmation of the human spirit. It begins in the heart and from there grows to embrace our relationships with each other, with injustice and cruelty, with nature and God’s world itself.

But it starts with taking uncomfortable and inconvenient truths to heart.

The Power of Words

This isn’t what I’d intended to write on the Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah, but -

Yesterday, as I was discussing the news with his parent, a child came on the line: ‘I don’t want deaths…after Jo Cox…No more deaths, will there?’ He was crying. I’ve heard nothing like this before. I hear the fear.

I am shocked and frightened at the abuse to which MPs and public servants, especially women, are subject, and at the derision directed worldwide at the guarantors of liberty, our independent judiciary and free press.

Verbal violence doesn’t only provoke physical violence. It turns threat, hatred and contempt into a form of culture; it uses them as tools for identity creation. Neither the UK, the US nor Israel or anywhere else must go that way. Life and the world are too precious.

Judaism has long appreciated the power of words: ‘Tell it here and it kills in Rome,’ warns the Talmud about lashon hara, which could be translated today as ‘verbal incitement’. What would the Talmud say in the social media age?

So my prayer is for words of goodness, kindness and healing.

Words are energy. ‘God spoke and the world came into being’: words are the divine instruments of creation. We humans can’t make physical worlds with words. But ask a poet, a novelist: words are sacred, wonderful, beautiful, malleable. They form worlds within worlds which transform the way we see and feel this world.

Words are greeting, recognition: Shalom Aleichem: I notice you; how are you? They are companionship, friendship and solidarity. They push at the doors of loneliness; they ‘speak to the heart.’

Words are questions, attempts at understanding: What does this mean for you? How does your life feel, in your thoughts, inside your skin?

Words are the pursuit of truth. Words may be discursive, debating, incisive, inventive, argumentative, impassioned, outraged – so long as they are ‘for the sake of heaven’.

Words are exhortation: do what is right and just! Words are warning to depart from evil.

Words are gratitude and blessing: thank you for this fruit, this water. Thank you for this dawn, this dusk, this life.

But…

Is this the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth? Which of us has never shouted, never spoken in anger, never intended to be hurtful, never told a lie, never put someone down, never let a racist, sexist, derisive, contemptuous word pass our lips?

Therefore, words are also apology: I said wrong. I misunderstood you. I hurt you. Will you accept my apology? Will you help me to find a better way to live together, – in our family, our community, our country, our world?

My prayer is that words like these should be our discourse, in public as in private.

But my prayer is also for what lies deeper than words: the listening on which they must be founded.

Help us listen, with our hearts as well as our heads, to what lies beyond the words and silence of those we love, and of those who turn to us, or to whom we should be turning.

Help us hear our ‘them’, our ‘that lot’, whoever they may be, with whom we may disagree viscerally but to whose realities we may have paid little if any attention.

Above all, help us listen to life itself, this living world, this wonder of rivers and mountains this terror of storms and droughts, so that we hear the urgent need for protection and restoration.

Then, out of that listening, may be find the words and commit ourselves to the actions of healing.

That is my prayer, which I address to myself, and you, and everyone, and God.

 

Why truth matters

Just as the liturgy of the High Holydays emphasises life and love, so it focuses on integrity and truth. We are called to speak truth before the God of truth.

I’m experiencing the side-stepping of truth in certain fields of public discourse as deeply frightening. ‘To abandon facts is to abandon freedom’ wrote Timothy Snyder in On Tyranny; ‘’if nothing is true, then no one can criticize power.’ (p. 65)

Judaism holds as self-evident not only certain specific truths, – the importance of life, liberty and responsibility, – but, most significantly, the basic proposition that there is such a thing as truth. There are different kinds of truth, including many shades of subjective ‘truth’ relative to the perspective of the beholder. But this does not contradict the central importance of truthfulness, or that there exist such things as falsehood, lying and denial. Hence the Torah commands us to keep far from false matters, search truth out, acquire truth and speak truth in the heart.

Underlying this commitment to truthfulness is the belief that we are ultimately accountable. That is how Rashi explains the Torah’s injunction to ‘fear your God’: know that even where there are no human witnesses there is One who knows.

I am not sure where this ‘One’ is. Sometimes the ‘One’ is my own conscience, when I realise that I’ve been telling that most subtle and intimate of half-truths, or half deceits, – to myself about myself. At other times, the ‘One’ is in the mind of my friend or interlocuter, expecting, adjuring me to, speak honestly. Often my sense is vaguer, that somehow life reads me, has the measure of my heart and deeds, summons me to integrity.

I fear that without such a sense of answerability we are adrift in a sea of chaos and violence, that, again in Snyder’s words, ‘Post-truth is pre-fascism’. That is why this season when we are called to account is so profoundly important, not just to Jews, but to civilisation itself, even if we do not believe in God in any way at all, but that the locus of truth lies is the human heart and conscience.

For it is in the name of truth that we must challenge lies, evasion and the suppression of evidence out of self-interest; acknowledging, of course, that we too may be mistaken and that truth does not belong to us, but that we must belong with truth. Only thus can we face the challenges before us with integrity and hope: how to live with ourselves and each other in a world able to sustain the rich and beautiful diversity of life. We have no time to waste on disingenuity and denial.

Truth is not the only quality we need. ‘Truth and peace have fallen in love,’ reads the leader’s meditation, ‘Righteousness, justice and compassion as well as truth accompany you’. I find it easier to write about kindness, peace, healing and beauty. But they have no basis, are rooted in no sustaining ground, without truth. That’s what frightens me, and what makes our thoughts, prayers and resolve so important at this season.

 

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