January 15, 2016 admin

The uncorrupted spirit

Faith and fear, these have been the dual poles of my week, and my life for these last many years.
I believe in wonder; I believe in life; I believe in the goodness of the human heart; I believe in loving kindness; I believe all being is animate with the sacred presence of the divine; I believe that every action matters. With this trust and hope, HaTikvah in its broadest, deepest as well as its specifically Jewish sense, I try to ground my feet and settle my spirits when I feel frightened.
There’s much which makes me afraid. I’m not referring to specific, personal fears; I‘m thinking of the challenges which face us all, all humanity together.
On Monday I attended a conference for faith leaders passionate about theology and ecology. It was engaging and full of practical ideas. But the issues are overwhelming. Why have we lost 50% of the mass of all animal life in the UK over forty years? What value do we place on non-human life? What does it mean to be a ‘creature’ amidst other creatures? Do we hear, in the words of Pope Francis, the cry of the poor alongside the cry of the earth?
On Thursday I met a priest from Latakia in western Syria. He runs the Awareness Foundation, to bring hope through education to young people. ‘The war’s an industry’, he said. ISIS trade in weapons, oil, antiquities; destruction isn’t collateral damage, but a deliberate aim’. Syrian Children feel utterly abandoned: has the world learnt nothing from history? ‘We train teenagers to be leaders. For the first day we just listen – to their sorrows and angers. As they became empowered as teachers their attitudes change.’
He was blunt about the hatreds of the region, so often ingrained by politics and implacable theology, – religion perverted into cruel bigotry. ‘Don’t imagine that at the first kind word it’ll all just melt away.’ 
And one listens to people pour out their hearts…
What does one do? I stopped myself short during the morning prayers. There I was saying to God ‘Shema kolenu – Hear our voice’, but what voices crying out on this earth for access to the human heart and conscience was I failing to hear? How many people are there hungry, homeless, hopeless; how many creatures pecking, scrabbling for a worm or a grain of seed in unpolluted earth?
Yet I still believe in the sheer vitality of life, and in wonder. I believe that the uncorrupted spirit experiences joy and awe at the unfurling of the leaves, the alighting of a bird, the sound of children playing. ‘Cruelty has a human heart’ wrote Blake, but I do not believe that it is our deepest, untaught desire to inflict pain. Rather, the bond of life calls out in us to loving kindness, to be on the side of life with all its needs for nourishment and protection. Hatred is not a natural condition, but an affliction of the soul.
I believe that Isaiah’s words ‘they shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain’ are a cry which issues not just from the mouth of a prophet long ago, but from life itself, – a call both silent and tumultuous to intelligence and compassion. That, I believe, is the voice of God.

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