‘Go tell Jerusalem, “I remember the devotion of your youth, the faithful love of your bridal days, following me through an unsown land…” (Jeremiah 2:2) These are some of my favourite words.
In the Bible, they’re what God instructs Jeremiah to tell an imperilled Jerusalem. In my family, they’re the inscription on my grandmother’s grave. My grandfather fell in love with her at a Purim party. They had to wait through most of the First World War before they could marry. They fled Nazi Germany together to a – to them – unknown and unsown land, this England.
Romantic as they sound, the truth behind God’s words to Jeremiah is hard. God is frustrated. Jerusalem is on the brink of destruction, yet the people won’t listen. They put their trust in the wrong things; they refuse to change their ways. It’s scarcely the best time to speak of love.
Yet to God nothing is more important. So why does God do it? How do we? In a world full of reasons for anguish, how do we turn to healing and love?
These are questions which weigh on the soul at this challenging season of the Jewish year, the three weeks beyn hameytsarim, ‘in the straits’, between the breaching of the walls of Jerusalem and the sacking of the city by the Babylonians in 586 BCE and the Romans in 70 CE. How do we turn destructiveness into creativity and frustration into hope?
I struggle with these issues constantly. Things distress me: how will what’s happening in Israel ever lead to less hatred and more understanding? Things sadden me: tomorrow will be the 500th day of Russia’s war against Ukraine. Things madden me: why is there such heartless injustice? Why does so much money go into things which destroy nature, and so little into restoring it?
But there’s no point, no strength of morale, no leadership in venting such feelings. What, then, is the spiritual formula, the inner alchemy, which turns anguish into action and trepidation into inspiration?
It’s definitely doable. The NHS, seventy-five this week, was established in the wake of the Second World War. It’s our best loved public institution, and deserves to be, for all it’s done and continues to do for tens of millions. Choose Love, which supports thousands of homeless refugees, was created out of the ‘Jungle’ at Calais. The Psalmist’s hope has been vindicated time and again: ‘I lie down at night in tears, but the morning brings joy.’
What nourishes this resilience? The inspiration is all around us. We have only to see what so many people are doing. I get requests all the time: Join our campaign to protect Europe’s wild spaces. Write about free school meals for children whose cupboards at home are bare. Meet Ukrainian environmentalists planning how to rebuild greener. Support our work to bring together women leaders from across Israel’s society, orthodox, secular, Druse, Christian, Muslim. How can one not be moved by what so many good people do, sometimes in private, often in small local groups, but also nationally and internationally against the current, courageously?
As well as looking outwards, it’s also important to travel inwards. We need to go down, not, as can happen, to grey inner spaces, but deeper still, to the well of living waters, the inexhaustible flow of God’s spirit within us. Here at this hidden well, life cleanses the mind, heals the heart and renews the spirit.
Here we encounter the voice which says, ‘Leave anger and frustration. Don’t feel down and don’t give up. Remember that faithful love which has led so many generations through unsown lands. It will surely guide you too.’
It’s a voice we need to hear.