Silence, tears and listening...

In the last two days, two women have shared with me two stories I needed to hear and embrace as part of my life. They are both signs of hope in a complicated and suffering world. The first, from Amy-Jill Levine, comes at the close of her most excellent book, The Misunderstood Jesus: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus. I loved this book. I was challenged and made uncomfortable by this book. I was changed by this book.  Dr. Levine's story comes from Megan McKenna, and goes:

In a dream, a devout discipline of the master was permitted to approach the Temple in Paradise where all the great old sages who had studied the Talmud all their lives were not spending eternity. He gazed in at them, and to his amazement, they were all sitting around tables, just as they had done on earth, studying the Talmud still! The disciple watched them passionately exclaiming and arguing and reverently fingering the text. He wondered, "Is this really Paradise? It seems like earth." But then his thoughts were interrupted by warm laughter. "You are mistaken. This is not Paradise. The sages are not in Paradise. Paradise is in the sages."

She goes on to write: "I immediately thought of Luke 17: 20-21. Some Pharisees inquired of Jesus when God's kingdom would come. He answered, 'The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, 'Look, here it is!' or 'There it is!' For in face the kingdom of God is among you (or even in your midst!') In these days of interfaith relations, a Catholic woman can teach me (a Jewish professor) a midrash, and I can respond to her by citing a Gospel text she does not mention.

The second is from United Church of Christ scholar, Mary Luti, who writes: When Jesus saw her weeping, and those with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved… and Jesus began to weep. - John 11:33-35

A little girl asked him why God lets children suffer—asked Pope Francis, that is, in Manila last January. "Terrible things happen to children," she told him through tears. "It’s not their fault. Why does God permit it?" It was an entirely unscripted question. So was his answer. He didn’t correct her theology or otherwise attempt to pacify Glyzelle Palomar who, in front of a million people, had just told him that she scrounged food from garbage and slept outside on a cardboard mat. Here’s what he did. He enfolded the sobbing child in his arms. Then he admonished everyone to pay close attention because, he said, "She has just asked the one question with no answer."

To her he said, "Only when we are able to weep about the things you have lived will we understand anything and be able to answer you." Then he taught the crowd, "The world needs to weep. The marginalized weep, the scorned weep, but we who are more or less without needs, we don't know how. We must learn. There are realities in this life you can see only with eyes cleansed and clarified by tears… If you don't learn to weep, you're not a good Christian!"

Whenever we’re asked the question with no answer, "Our answer must first be silence, and then a word born of tears."

Prayer:  Give us tears, O God, so that we may see; and seeing, join each other in suffering; and in joining, be moved to love in deed.

Yesterday, President Obama spoke truth to power in a Jewish synagogue in anticipation of Shavuot. He noted that there are times when friends must say hard things to one another. He distinquished between calling out some of the dangerous and destructive policies currently being implemented by the Israeli government with respect to Palestine from anti-Semitic acts of hate and destruction. He noted that there are things that are being done by Israel that not only violate the Spirit of the Law and the Prophets, but cause the whole world - and especially the Palestinian people - to weep. And then, as is his style, he noted that if people think being friends with Israel is complicated, try maintaining friendship with Palestine in this context.

The Palestinians are not the easiest of partners. The neighborhood is dangerous. And we cannot expect Israel to take existential risks with their security so that any deal that takes place has to take into account the genuine dangers of terrorism and hostility. But it is worthwhile for us to keep up the prospect, the possibility of bridging divides and being just, and looking squarely at what’s possible but also necessary in order for Israel to be the type of nation that it was intended to be in its earliest founding.  And that same sense of shared values also compel me to speak out -- compel all of us to speak out -- against the scourge of Antisemitism wherever it exists. I want to be clear that, to me, all these things are connected. The rights I insist upon and now fight for, for all people here in the United States compels me then to stand up for Israel and look out for the rights of the Jewish people. And the rights of the Jewish people then compel me to think about a Palestinian child in Ramallah that feels trapped without opportunity. That’s what Jewish values teach me. That’s what the Judeo-Christian tradition teaches me. These things are connected.  (read the whole speech here: 

One of the gifts I have been given during this sabbatical, is an extended time to rest, read and listen: listen to the silence, listen and honor the weeping of others, listen and shed my own tears. Last night, I shared supper with a few close friends and colleagues before departing for Montreal, and I wanted to listen to them, too. They shared what they have experienced and learned from the first three weeks of this sojourn. They spoke of the blessings all our guest speakers have brought to the congregation - how one after the other built upon the previous wisdom almost like we planned it - and how the congregation has responded in participation and enthusiasm.  There is much more to come - for the congregation, for myself, for Dianne - and I found myself close to tears when we parted saying:  See you in September. 

So now it goes deeper... Give us tears, O God, so that we may see; and seeing, join each other in suffering; and in joining, be moved to love in deed...
+ Terry Graham @
+ The Lost Art of Listening @


Bill said…
"we who are more or less without needs, we don't know how. We must learn."

Convicting words. Thanks for sharing them.

May your sabattical be peaceful and blessed.

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