Coleman Barks - interpreter of the poet Rumi for our generation - once told the story of inviting the "elders" of creation to intervene during the war in Bosnia. He mused about might happen if the wisest souls among us travelled to the most wounded places among us and shared their presence, compassion and insights. Nothing came to pass then...
... but some 10 years later the Spirit drew together our best and brightest and a collective of the world's elder was born. (http://www.theelders.org/elders)
The story of the Elders started in a conversation between the entrepreneur Richard Branson and the musician Peter Gabriel. The idea they discussed was a simple one. In an increasingly interdependent world – a global village – could a small, dedicated group of independent elders help to resolve global problems and ease human suffering?
For inspiration, they looked to traditional societies, where elders often help to share wisdom and resolve disputes within communities. They took their idea to Nelson Mandela, who agreed to support it. With the help of Graça Machel and Desmond Tutu, Mandela set about bringing the Elders together.
Prospective members were invited to join on the basis of a distinct set of criteria. Firstly, and most importantly, they should be independent. They should have earned international trust, demonstrated integrity and built a reputation for inclusive, progressive leadership.
Mandela announced the formation of the Elders in July 2007, on the occasion of his 89th birthday, at a ceremony in Johannesburg. During the ceremony, he described the mission of the group:
"The Elders can speak freely and boldly, working both publicly and behind the scenes. They will reach out to those who most need their help. They will support courage where there is fear, foster agreement where there is conflict and inspire hope where there is despair." Nelson Mandela. (From The Elders web page)
As the Days of Awe begin for my spiritual cousins in Judaism - and as the whole creation cries out for healing - I am drawn ever closer to the ministry of reconciliation and healing that the Elders have embraced. Harvey Cox, writing in his deeply satisfying book Common Prayers, speaks of the start of Rosh ha-Shanah like this:
The shofar blasts are sounds without speech. Speech represents the division of sound into varied and separate movement in the mouth. But sound itself is one, united, cleaving to its source. On Rosh ha-Shanah the life force cleaves to its source, as it was before differentiation or division. And we, too, seek to attach ourselves to that inner flow of life... The sound of the shofar takes us to that moment of outcry from deep within, to a place prior to our division of our heart's
cry into the many words of prayer.
Surely the sofar signals, as nothing else does, the chasm between the past and the future. It splits time in two. As the old year fades and the new one begins, we realize that the old one is gone forever and that, try as we will, we can never know what lies ahead. The shofar, since it is wordless, can both scream in terror and shout for joy with the same breath. Nothing else is worthy of the beginning of a whole new year in the only life we will ever have. (Cox, p. 38-9)
That is my sense of this moment in time, too. What's more, I sense the essence of the shofar's scream of terror and shout of joy more deeply than any other time I can remember. And it is drawing me to those like the Elders - women and men grounded in their own spiritual traditions who have come together to search for common healing - who see beyond the obvious. They can see the eagle within the egg, the possibilities within the moment or the man inside the child as U2 likes to say.
May blessings be open those entering these Days of Awe - and may the Spirit leads us all towards common ground.
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