16 July 2013

The Almighty Enjoys the Fight

someone's always watching
In the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, carved Crusader crosses, from soldiers on duty, mark the walls throughout the Church.  One imagines endless boredom or enfevered zealotry channeled through the end of a divine killing tool, marking the sacred with hands that doth profaned much.  The streets and alleyways of ancient Jerusalem often flowed with blood during those years and its never not humbling to walk about inside and see the humble pilgrim, the bloated tourist, the religious guardians and the watchful interlopers, navigating its dark, scented chapels.

Outside, the enveloping sun predominated over a few precious manifestations of shade, one such spot a wall separating the Mosque of Omar from the Church.  The minaret, calling out Ramadan prayers not long before the Church's noon bells rang.

I checked my watch.  In several hours we would gather as a community, on a thick-bladed grassy hill overlooking the Old City and read from Lamentations, the Jewish tradition's mournful, primal scream at the Babylonian rape and destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC.  Steeled against the harsh theology of God's punishment of the Jewish people, the subjugation of the children of Israel to famine, persecution and exile, I submitted to the sun's punishing heat.  We traversed the Old City, made our way in to the Silwan and City of David, where the country's most political and most fascination archaeological dig occurs.  An uneasy alliance of settlement politics, history and archaeology intersect here, demonstrating with incontrovertible evidence that there has been a Jewish presence in Jerusalem for more than three thousand years.   I had a wish yesterday that Mahmoud Abbas had the courage to walk with us.  To simply declare what is true:  Jews have always been here.  Now let's draw up borders and move on.

Living with paradox:  On the eve of remembering the destruction of Jerusalem we climb through recently discovered tunnels and atop Roman roads that were trod upon by Jewish pilgrims going to the Temple to offer prayer and sacrifice.  We were here.  We are here.   We will always be here.  Provided we never forget.  Oh, yeah, and as Lamentations will make clear:  provided we don't screw it up.

Before history there was only theology and philosophy.  Tragic events were understand to have occurred for a reason--either as reward or punishment or for a mysterious reason to be revealed at a different, future time.  But I don't believe in that God and for that reason, like many of my teachers, choose not to fast on this day.  While deeply respectful of the commitment made from others, I read today in protest of that God; question his anger and his violence; walk along the borders of his territory and peer over the fence of his impotent omnipotence.  איכה.  Eichah--How doth the city sit solitary, asks Lamentations.  The abused, metaphorical sister city of peace.  No.  I start Lamentations with the same word, איכה but translate it as "where are you?"

Where are you in your power, God, while others are trampled and abused?  Where are you while the innocent suffer?  Where are you while injustice prevails?

I reserve my fast for Yom Kippur, cognizant of the abundance of sin I have to atone for.  But on this day I study and eat.  But especially study.  Since, as one friend's grandfather once said, "Ignorance isn't an option."

Of course I could argue against myself.  Yom Kippur is an individual repenting for his sins; Tisha B'Av is for the nation.  An orthodox colleague told me yesterday about a group of religious Jews who were planning on assembling at Yitzhak Rabin's grave last night, to read Lamentations there, to publicly come to terms with what it meant that an Orthodox Jew murdered Rabin.  There is a case to be made for the necessity of public expiation; of an acknowledgement of shared responsibility for when things go wrong at home.  Atonement for assent; for silence; for passive inaction.

But I'm not there.  For me, the protest is more vital.  It's like fuel for the fight:  a resistance against the idea of an all-powerful God who allows the innocent to suffer.  And further, how do I look out across a rebuilt city in a rebuilt state speaking a rebuilt language and testifying to the uncommon achievement of an idea that one must no longer wait for a messiah to return a people of faith to their land but rather exists because of an impatience with waiting; a rejection of powerlessness; a refusal to any longer be punished by an invisible, all-knowing God.

Should the sun burn bright today, let me find shade in the words; ease in their rhythm; challenge, dissent, comfort and wisdom in the generations of those who came before us, making sense of their lives, in their time, so we can make sense of ours.

Tisha B'Av is my day of rebellion.  Something tells me the Almighty enjoys the fight.

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