This is a quotation from Jeremiah (6:14, if you’re a Bible geek). Jeremiah is just about the only prophet who can do justice to the situation we are in just now – I can only think the fundamentalists among us have a very selctive awareness of Scripture. There’s a lot about oppression of the poor and vulnerable, among his denunciations, a lot about the destruction of the environment, the disasters of war and the misuse of legal processes and the economy, which would keep some folk awake at nights if they took it seriously. I was distracted by the phrase just before this one too – ‘they dress my people’s wounds without concern’, which sums up the Westminster covid response pretty neatly too.
I haven’t been saying much about everything that’s going on – there are people much better informed than I am, and people whose voices deserve to be heard much more than mine. There is very little I can do, what’s more, not once war breaks out. Our local politicians are already doing what they can (and it’s precious little) and my personal situation doesn’t permit me too be too actively involved.
But I am involved, we all are. It’s a wide spectrum between the frictions of our daily lives and the bombs and rubble of Gaza and Ukraine, the Peace Wall in Belfast, but we’re all on it somewhere. When my Jewish friends worry about the surge in hate crimes, in verbal abuse on social media and on the streets, I sympathise of course, it must be horrible and frightening, but I’ve been surprised to find it so difficult. On summer Saturdays I have to listen to my neighbours singing songs about wading up to their knees in my blood, and we’re supposed to take it for granted – it’s just the marching season. When I hear people who wouldn’t personally be mean to a soul complaining that ‘you’re not allowed to say anything any more’, I wonder how their queer neighbours or their disabled friends feel about that. And when we say ‘we must be able to get along and why can’t people just be nice to each other?’ I think we don’t really understand peace at all.
I think about Yasser Arafat and Shimon Peres in 1993 and Peres saying ‘You don’t have to have peace talks with someone if you like them’. You can’t begin to make peace if you pretend it was never broken. You can’t simply ‘live and let live’. If you don’t know and understand people you can’t respect them. If you don’t respect them you can’t trust them, and without trust there is no peace.
When I get like this I think of the poem I wrote to deal with these feelings. It gets a lot of work these days:
Stand in the Light
Stand in the light.
Allow the wild things to creep
out of the shadows.
Welcome them all, the wet
bedraggled things, the ones
all spit and claws, the one
who weeps and hangs its head,
the one who stares, and says ‘Make me.’
Stand in the light. They are yours,
washed and unwashed alike.
Stand in the light, and sing.
Raise your voice as if
there was no fear of darkness.
Listen and you will hear
other voices, other songs,
rough and sweet and dauntless,
blues and canto jondo,
pibroch, nanha, tanakh.
Stand in the light and sing. Their pain
is yours. Allow it to hurt.
Stand in the light. Be still.
Light is what we need. Let it glow,
let it shine into the furthest dark
to find the lost forgotten hopes
and warm them to new life.
Allow it to grow and touch the ruined
homes and hearts and show us
what’s to mend. Stand in the light.
Be still. Become the light.
Perhaps listening is the best thing we can do. I have a friend in America, Laura Hope-Gill, who runs a project called The Story Shepherds. She describes it on the group’s Facebook page:
The Story Shepherds project seeks to recognize people who have explored their stories and developed the particular kind of listening stories require in order to access their deep medicine for healing trauma and reconnecting with humanity.
She has already achieved remarkable results in Northern Ireland, and is now developing the project in Asheville, South Carolina. She is one of the mostly deeply insightful and compassionate women I have ever met, having survived a complex traumatic story of her own. Please check it out. We are going to need a lot of mutual listening over the coming years.