January 1, 2016 admin


It’s not Rosh Hashanah today, yet the wider world is waking to a new year and it’s hard not to be drawn into the mood of reflection on times past and times ahead.
It would be easy to list the last year’s terrors and disasters and the current fears with which they leave us. But, while it is neither right nor possible to ignore them, I want to concentrate instead on what has the power to inspire and sustain us in the year ahead.
Life calls out for our compassion, concern and solidarity. ‘If you listen, you will certainly hear’, taught the Hasidic sage Rebbe Yehudah Aryeh Lev of Ger, known after his main work as the Sefat Emet, which can be translated loosely as ‘speaker of truth’. He was simply taking the familiar words from the daily Shema meditation ‘Vehayah im shamo’a tishme’u’ and giving them a new twist of meaning: Listen, and you will surely hear: – hear, that is, the voice of God in the most ordinary things, calling us to service.
In front of me is today’s newspaper with a picture of Tima Kurdi. She lives in Canada; she’s the aunt of the little boy whose picture when he was picked up drowned on the Turkish Coast awoke the conscience of the world. She’d been sending money to all her brothers in Syria. It wasn’t enough, she now feels; ‘I wish I had sent more food’. Perhaps then the family wouldn’t have felt the need to undertake their terrible journey. Her words in their pain embody the longing to help, nurture and protect our family, our friends, our fellow human beings, all vulnerable life.
Life can make us hardened, selfish, calculating and cruel. It can certainly be argued that it’s a mark of luxury and privilege if one has the choice to do anything much more than fight one’s own corner. But to someone with an open spirit, another person’s pain, struggle, hope, or indeed joy, tugs on the invisible bonds of fellowship, pulls at a cord attached to one’s heart and conscience, so that one feels, ‘How can I do nothing? How can I exist, and fail to care?’
This represents a different form of conquest from the triumph of force; it’s the recognition of life’s power over us, of life’s strength within us to call us to its service. Perhaps that’s why the words of the Shema ‘If you listen, you will surely hear’ are followed at once by the injunction to serve God with all one’s heart. This means to me not blind obedience to an inscrutable deity, but rather the attentive concern for all life, people first, but also all living beings, which are the manifestation of that vitality, consciousness and mysterious source of wonder which is the tangible presence of God in this world.
The aim is not to dominate life, but to let life inspire, motivate, purify and overcome us. It’s a form of victory beautifully expressed in Pasternak’s poem Daybreak:
     In me are people without names,
     Children, stay-at-homes, trees.
     I am conquered by them all
     And this is my only victory. 
Perhaps the greatest ambition one can have in life is to be more deeply conquered by it, and to serve it more truly.
All around me I see people who proffer such service, who show kindness in a countless proliferation of ways, who respect and tend to life’s vulnerability, beauty and wonder, and they are my constant inspiration.
I want this to be my, and our, motivation in the year ahead.

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