‘Because we belong to one race, the human race,’ said Rabbi Baroness Julia Neuberger at our synagogue last night in a powerful rebuttal of religious, political and racial Antisemitism. Her words, spoken with that deep conviction modulated by kindness which characterises her, are a fitting prelude to Human Rights Shabbat.
I’ve woken twice this week with nightmares prompted by the forthcoming election. That’s how at 3.00am this morning I found myself thinking of the words with which Jacob awakes from his dream, that wonderful vision of a ladder placed towards the earth and ascending up to heaven: ‘There is God in this place, and I didn’t realise’.
But, unlike in Jacob’s experience, the world doesn’t seem like the gateway to heaven right now. I feel surrounded less by angels than by terrors. I’m not sure I should name them, but these are some of the demons haunting me in the night: The attack by cults of myths and lies on integrity and truth; the world-wide failure so far to act quickly and radically enough to protect our beautiful planet; what unbridled consumption does to the poor and to nature; vast, unjustifiable, unconscionable injustice; the whole unfinished Brexit saga; the language of abuse, particularly on social media, especially towards women; rising populism and racism against refugees, Muslims, Jews; Jew-hate rooted in the Hydra-like Protocols of the Elders of Zion; homelessness, the loss for so many of hearth, hope and everything.
It took me a long time to get back to sleep.
So where is God in this place?
When a bereaved father whose son was murdered by a terrorist says he won’t have the death used to increase hatred in the world – God is in that place, in his heart.
When courageous women (and men) stand for election (in different political parties) because they believe in justice and goodness, despite innumerable threats on social media, including to their very lives – God is in that place.
When a child calls on my mobile and says in an urgent voice, “How do I save the life of this injured bird I just found?” – God is in the hands with which she lifts it gently into a box.
When a woman says on the radio that she’s stopped buying fast fashion and goes to clothes-swaps because her teenage daughter has made her rethink – I believe God is in that place.
When, as happened in the last ten days, I share a platform with an Imam, and again with a leading Christian minister, and we say “We stand together” – then we are warranted in the hope that God will guide us.
When a young person stands up and tells his or her community, ‘This is the charity I’ve run for’, or walked for, or worked for – God is in their commitment.
God is in our hearts, addressing every one of us in the voices of a thousand lives: family, friends, strangers, refugees, homeless people, even the birds and the trees. Nothing, no living thing whatsoever, doesn’t matter. The sacred spirit of life cries out to us from everywhere; it calls from inside our own consciousness. The challenge is to hear it, not just to wake and say ‘God is in this place, and I didn’t realise’, but to stay awake, remain aware and act accordingly.
For there are allies everywhere, in everyone who cherishes life, puts respect before prejudice, generosity before contempt, concern for others before convenience to self.
God is in this place, if we have the conscience, courage and compassion to make it so. Nothing can take that away.