We received another letter to the congregation from our beloved rabbi this week. They seem to come ever more frequently. One more letter exhorting us to pray for one more Jewish community under violent assault as they celebrated Hanukkah. One more call to prayer for the complete healing for the Jewish brothers and sisters in Monsey as well as the victims of anti-Semitic violence in so many other places around the country. One more call to stand in solidarity with Jewish communities around the world. One more call to a commitment to work toward making this world a safe place for everyone in the midst of our vast diversity.
Each event of violence toward the Jewish community anywhere challenges our local community’s commitment to lovingkindness, generous hospitality, nonviolence and extravagant welcome to the stranger as locked doors and armed police presence in the synagogue become the norm. The high calling to be peace-seekers and peace makers keeps us all on edge as we struggle to maintain the level of chesed, grace, lovingkindness, mercy that we claim as part of our identity.
Meanwhile, a Christian church in Texas comes under attack. In the aftermath, the congregation gives thanks that there are highly trained, armed members of the congregation who could shoot back, thus saving the lives of many in the congregation. The wise teachings of a non-violent Jesus give way to armed self defense in the sanctuary in the service of saving lives.
I wonder how to articulate the difference between hiring protective police presence and arming members of the congregation?
For today, I am simply sitting in the pain of this conundrum. How, indeed, do we keep our sanctuaries safe. In other parts of the world, Muslim communities, Hindu communities, Buddhist communities also come under attack. It seems that the places where humankind can most aptly work toward a nonviolent world are also the spiritual communities that are most readily and conveniently the targets of violence and hatred.
I recently read the following paragraph from The Secret Commonwealth by Phillip Pullman. Lyra, the heroine of the story is in a conversation with Farder Coram, an aging gyptian with whom she became acquainted in her childhood in an earlier Pullman novel, “The Golden Compass” . They are conversing about the hopelessness of overcoming the negative forces that seem to be winning the day:
Farder Coram: “The CCD faction can’t arrest as many people as hate it, and the people en’t got the organization to move agin the CCD. The other side’s got an energy our side en’t got. Comes from their certainty about being right. If you got that certainty, you’ll be willing to do anything to bring about the end you want. It’s the oldest human problem, Lyra, an’ it’s the difference between good and evil. Evil can be unscrupulous, and good can’t. Evil has nothing to stop it doing what it wants, while good has one hand tied behind its back. To do the things it needs to do to win, it’d have to become evil to do ‘em.”
It takes effort on my part to resist dualistic thinking - to pull myself back to center to a non-dualistic perspective - to focus on the Shema - Listen God Wrestlers! God is One! There is nothing else! Indeed it does take a lot of wrestling to keep my grounding in that truth, that all is within the Divine Being - all is in dynamic process. All suffering, all violence, all blessing and cursing manifest the swirling, creative process of Holy Being. I cling to my understanding, drawn from my reading of Genesis, that drawing order out of chaos is what Holy Creativity does.
So, I take a deep breath and enter another day at the very beginning of a new year, with a prayer that 2020 will be a year of 20/20 clear vision for us all -that we may see this world and all its beauty and conflict with clear eyes and incisive wisdom to meet the needs we encounter with lovingkindness, courage, and nonviolent strength that comes from compassion.