Is it just me, friends, or does the world seem weighed down and weary at the moment?
I feel tetchy and on edge almost all the time these days. Initially I put it down to the weather, which, after a brief respite of temperatures in the mid-30s celsius, is now back around 40 or higher. Every morning, I wake and look for clouds, for the promise of rain. I long to feel a cool evening breeze. The unbroken blue sky and endless sun and arid hillsides, the dust settling on every surface, the heavy humid air have begun to feel oppressive and never-ending.
But it’s more than just the weather, more than a strange kind of seasonal depression.
Every day as I check my Twitter feed and read the UK, US and Israel news sites, words from one of Warsan Shire’s poems come to mind:
later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
where does it hurt?
Hurricanes. Floods. Dangerous political posturing and warnings of nuclear war. Shouts of white supremacists. Power struggles. Corrupt politicians. Untrustworthy police. Terrorism. Cuts to services for the most vulnerable. Misogyny, racial discrimination, homophobia at personal and global levels. Strained and breaking relationships between couples, between friends, between neighbours, between countries.
Here, Gaza suffers from ever decreasing electricity, now down to two hours a day in some parts of the strip, and speculations that in just a couple of years, it will be completely uninhabitable. Rumours of threats from the north are making the rounds among those who know more than I. And, of course, just across the Sea of Galilee, beyond the Golan cliffs, lies Syria and untold horrors which have ceased to make the news.
I’ve been hosting a number of Ecumenical Accompaniers in my guest apartment over the summer, volunteers who come from all over the world to be a protective presence and witness in East Jerusalem and the West Bank at house demolitions, in the midst of settler violence, and at the busiest checkpoints into Israel. And repeatedly, I’ve heard them say as they leave, ‘I’m sorry I haven’t had a chance to talk with you properly. I’ve just needed to rest. I’m so worn down by the imbalance of power.’
I find myself asking: What can I do? Who can I help? How can I constructively use the anger I feel at the state of our world, at those who benefit from the oppression of others, at those who turn a blind eye, at those who enable injustice?
It’s hard to know how to triage when there’s such great need all around.
I thought about this yesterday, as I spent several hours cleaning the guest apartment in preparation for the next round of visitors.
All I know how to do is this:
To offer hospitality to those who need respite.
To tell those I love that I love them.
To ask for forgiveness in relationships where I have contributed to the brokenness.
To seek redemption in situations where there seems to be little hope of reconciliation.
To remind myself that all whom I encounter are loved by God and bear God’s image.
To live with compassion and courage, compassion for those who suffer and courage to use my privilege wisely.
To keep myself healthy — eating good food, exercising, drinking plenty of water, getting enough rest — because all of these acts above take enormous amounts of energy in these anxious times.
But above all, where I have found the greatest peace is in the evenings, when I dim the lights in my living room and light the Paschal candle from 2013 (brought over by friends in January), the year I was a deacon at Old Saint Paul’s in Edinburgh, the year I had the privilege of singing the Exsultet, the great song of praise, at the Easter Vigil. As I strike the match, I remember the darkness of the church, lit only by that single candle’s glow. I remember taking a deep breath, and singing the first notes, voice trembly with nerves.
In the candlelight, I say Compline, quietly, slowly, welcoming the night, praying for those who face the perils and dangers, those who may not see the morning come. I pray for those who will not sleep, those who face impossible decisions, those who know anxiety, those who are far from home. I pray in the fragile light for all whose lives are in darkness, in this land, in the lands on our borders, in lands far away.
I pray to the One who in the night 2000 years ago made even the darkness holy:
The power of this holy night
dispels all evil,
washes guilt away,
restores lost innocence,
brings mourners joy;
it casts out hatred,
brings us peace,
and humbles earthly pride.
In a voice trembly with nerves, and anxiety, and an emotion I cannot always name, with praise and lament in equal measures, I pray:
Be present, O merciful God, and protect us through the silent hours of this night, so that we who are wearied by the changes and chances of this fleeting world may rest in your eternal changelessness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.