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Echoes of the divine
Listening for the voice of Another in a time of crisis
We all have our personal crises, and with the world around us in a state of crisis, the situation in Israel and Gaza has felt like a tipping point for many. Recently, friends have shared with me wrenching, first-hand letters from family members living in both the North and South of Israel, and yesterday another friend sent me a video of a healing conversation between Tara Brach, an American psychologist, and Stephen Fulder, a peace activist who lives in Galilee.
Fulder was educated at Oxford, holds a Ph.D. in molecular biology, and is a practicing Buddhist who has been a bearer of peace in the Middle East for many years. In his conversation with Tara Brach, he notes that the situation where he lives is so extreme that even some of his peacemaking colleagues in Israel and Gaza have recently reverted to anger, fear, and calls for revenge.
It's no use trying to change people’s minds when they are in crisis and a state of reactivity, Fulder says. But simply being present to them with your heart, assuring them that you are there for them without judgment or counter-argument, that you are there with only sympathy and love, this can be the beginning of healing. Only then, can an alternative way emerge.
Meeting each other with our hearts, not our minds. What we often need most is a pause, a calm, and a silence into which our hyper reactivity can be absorbed by a larger life and loving presence. We can be such nonjudgmental, absorbing hearts for each other. And what that requires, of course, is our own sense of such a Presence within ourselves – an inner source of refuge and strength, the quieter voice of Another who speaks of our own forgiveness, who speaks of our Way, our Truth, and our Life.
I immediately thought of the frenzied, angry mob who brought to Jesus a woman who was caught in the act of adultery. The mob dared Jesus to speak something contrary to their law. So, for the longest time, Jesus didn’t say anything at all. He just bent over and silently wrote with his finger on the ground, allowing the venting to continue.
Our immediate role in crisis is not to add more noise or opinion. Instead, we somehow have to make room for a larger presence. As Mary Oliver says in her poem, “Praying,” we need to make a “doorway,” “a silence in which another voice may speak.”
In the concluding words of his celebrated reflections, New Seeds of Contemplation, Thomas Merton notes that the Presence of God in the world depends on no one but God. But the Presence of God in human beings can depend in some measure on us. Will we periodically give our attention to our larger life? To that loving and forgiving Presence that envelops us all? Or, will we allow ourselves to be co-opted by our frenzied and insecure smaller selves, to the point of no return?
We do not have to go far to catch echoes of our larger life, our True Life, to which we are constantly being beckoned. It can happen, Merton says:
“When we are alone on a starlit night; when by chance we see the migrating birds in autumn descending on a grove of junipers to rest and eat; when we see children in a moment when they are really children; when we know love in our own hearts…. We are in the midst of it, and it is in the midst of us, for it beats in our very blood, whether we want it to or not.”
There’s no telling what might serve as an echo of the Divine Presence that suddenly calls us back to our True Life. But Merton’s words – “when we see children in a moment when they are really children” – this is the echo that immediately came to mind when I watched this 3-minute video by the NY Times, “War through the eyes of Gaza’s children.”
While adults can be swept away by the passions of our insecure egos and the frenzied, opinionated arguments of our discursive minds, children naturally seem to dwell closer to the Divine Simplicity found in everyday life. And these tender, unrehearsed voices of little children in Gaza, echoed by children throughout Israel and around the world, might be the clearest communication of God available to us.
In every personal crisis that threatens to overwhelm and control us, as well as in every war-torn area of the world, our first and most urgent need might be for a pause, a “doorway,” and “a silence in which another voice may speak.”