Our world needs healing. Perhaps never since the Second World War, the hatred, incitement and viciousness which led to it, and the decimated lands and homeless populations it left in its wake, has this been so obvious.
My heart goes out to everyone on the front line of care, whether in ambulances and hospitals, or listening to people’s anguish and mental stress, or trying to heal the injustices and angers which divide our societies, or mend our relationship with the rest of creation, the very air, water and plants and animals on which the wellbeing of all life depends.
We all have the capacity to heal; and we all, too, have the power to make matters worse. In these pressured and anxious times, we must help one another be healers. Refa’einu veneirapei, runs the daily prayer, ‘Heal us, God, and we shall be healed.’ I like to think the words might also mean, ‘Heal us, God, and make us healers.’
At the broadest, geopolitical level, we have been horrified by the violence at the United States Capitol. The Rabbinical Assembly immediately called on ‘all American political and religious leaders to condemn in unequivocal terms this attack on democracy and its institutions,’ to confirm the results of the elections and ensure the peaceful transfer of authority.
I felt shocked, but not entirely surprised, at what happened on Wednesday night. It is a consequence of years of incitement to contempt. I was reminded of the Torah’s account of Pharaoh’s address to his people almost three millennia ago: ‘Come, let us deal wisely:’ that seductive appeal to fear and hatred as a justification for tyranny, which led to enslavement, misery and murder.
It was galling to hear leaders of far less democratic countries than America ‘cash in’ on America’s hour of shame. I pray that world leaders will have the wisdom to speak words of healing, and that Joe Biden, who knows the depths of personal tragedy, will find the inspiration, courage and support from those around him to be ‘the healer president.’
What is said from the top travels far further and carries greater power. But all our words matter. In these times of great stress, blame and anger tempt us all. The challenge is whether we can call injustice and wrong by their names, yet listen to what hurts and troubles others, and speak calmly and with integrity, keeping the values of justice, truthfulness and compassion before us always. The adage that ‘sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me,’ is simply not true. It’s often the words which lead people to pick up the stones, and the guns. But it’s also often words which bring the beginning of healing.
Therefore on the far smaller, local scale, words matter too, in our homes, phone calls, zooms, emails, and in our two-metres-apart greetings in the half-empty streets. It’s not just what we say, but what we don’t say. Frustration has grated the skin away and exposed our nerves. It’s easy to be angry. Loneliness has settled on many like a low-grade, immovable ache.
Please, and I include myself, think of friends we may not have spoken to, acquaintances after whom we have not enquired. Be in touch; say hello. Risk calling the number. Share a memory, something gracious, something which lifts the spirit. Listen. It takes all of us to make ‘we are not alone’ real.
Ordinary words of kindness, small acts of consideration, lead to a spirit of generosity which has the power to draw in others, to find quiet routes across the fissures of society, and bring that light ‘with healing on its wings’ which the prophet Malachi speaks of.
We can all incite to anger, or guide to understanding.