Sighs Too Deep for Words

| October 14th, 2023

Dear Beloved Community,

On weeks like this one, even for those like me who work with words and Word, I come up wordless in the face of such horrors like those we’ve watched unfold in Israel and Palestine. Perhaps you feel the same… and feel only a sharp breath, a quivering chin, a face contorted by misery and disbelief, a churn in the belly that suggests the with-ness of the suffering thousands of miles away, a heart groaning with the pain of violence for violence, sighs too deep for words.

This quiet in word yet active in heart posture has increased my interest in listening, learning, understanding what I may have otherwise not considered. May I point you to beautiful, helpful, searing, and true words that have educated me this week, that have enlarged my perspective and grown my understanding?

Over the past several years, Rabbi Danya Rutenberg has become a teacher from afar for me. Her strong public voice holds amidst the noise of this moment, and I am grateful for the emotional labor she has offered this week, writing reflectively as a Jewish leader and scholar. Her recent Substack article called “A Lot of Things are True” was most impactful. This line said it best for me:

At the end of the day, everyone must be safe, free and allowed to flourish, because everyone is holy, created in the image of the divine. 

Our Baptist friend, George Mason, retired longtime pastor of Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, had just arrived in Israel on October 7 along with half of the group of Baptists and Jews from Texas he was co-leading with Rabbi Nancy Kasten in an interfaith trip to see how peacemaking is made possible. As you might imagine, his has been quite a compelling perspective to hear. I appreciated the nuance in his words about the conflict which you can find linked here

Valerie Kaur, Sikh activist and author of See No Stranger: A Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love, penned these words that have now been shared by tens of thousands on social media. She said this: 

“Our most powerful response to the horror in Israel and Palestine is to refuse to surrender our humanity. You will be told by some: the deaths of Israeli children are unfortunate but inevitable, because Israel’s occupation of Palestine is brutal and wrong. You will be told by others: the deaths of Palestinian children are unfortunate but inevitable, because it is the only way to keep Israel safe from terror, and Hamas brought this on its own people. You will hear: our aggression is the only response to their aggression, our fear more justified than their fear, our grief more devastating than theirs ever will be. But oh my love, the hierarchy of pain is the old way. The moment we allow our hearts to go numb is the moment we shut down our humanity. I don’t know the solution to the conflict win Israel and Palestine, but I do know the starting point: to grieve “their” children as our children. It is the only way to break the cycle.” 

My dear friend and poet Scott Dickison pointed our shared pastor friends to a poem from Yehuda Amichai called “Wildpeace,”. The first lines immediately create space for shared understanding:

“Not the peace of a cease-fire, not even the vision of the wolf and the lamb, but rather as in the heart when the excitement is over and you can talk only about a great weariness.”

Tomorrow in worship, we will bring those sighs and this great weariness into a time of lament, of crying out to God in distress and shouldering the burdens felt impossibly heavy by our Jewish and Muslim neighbors. We’ll lace our lament with the steadfast love and fierce peace of our God, whose heart was the first heart to break, whose tears were the first to fall. We’ll hold fast to the divine Love who knows every creature as good and worthy of life. And we’ll build each other up for the living of these days. 

Together in God’s work of Love,

Pastor Emily