A Familiar Discomfort
How did it happen that it all feels so familiar – riots, violence, bloodshed, and the lead-like weights on my heart making it hard to breathe or even think? The numbers of dead, the murdered, and the hundreds of wounded only escalate on this hot summer weekend in late July. Jerusalem, held holy by multitudes, this city of such pain is once again seeing her sons and daughters offered up on the unjust altar of war and competition for a small slice of sacred space, defiled yet again by innocent blood.
We live today with a sense of overhanging doom, the air crackling with the barely restrained energy of hostility, suspicion and fear. It’s almost like sitting on a ready to be detonated ammunition dump. Some of us are glued to the news channels, waiting with the almost certain knowledge that whatever we hear will be more deaths, more wounded, more devastation. Some of us tune in every hour, or we hold our breath and wait for the latest “breaking news.”
The religious fervor of this latest upturn in the cycle of violence and retaliation connects directly to deeply held views and defining ways of life for Muslims, Jews and Christians. To simplistically try to make sense of the magnitude of violence is counterproductive and easily leads to a depersonalization and even demonization of the “other side” in the ongoing saga of the intractable conflict in Israel/Palestine.
I do not live in Jerusalem but Jerusalem lives in my heart. Her presence is a weighted symbol of a holy longing for peace, justice and righteousness to flow outward into all the earth. When her streets and courtyards are filled with riots, hatred, violence, and death this hope is deferred and smothered by gunfire, explosions and the cries of the wounded and dying. But Jerusalem is more than a symbol, she is her people, their cries, and the sounds of war that emanate from their hand-held guns and bombs.
And the prayers for peace, for justice, still resonate; carried by laments that merge with ancient litanies across the ages. This age-old cacophony of sound is a present reality. Like music, there are many layers and themes interwoven in the songs of the city. Today they are dissonance and death weaving disordered harmonies that flow through fiber-optic cyber-cables crisscrossing the globe in seconds. In Cambodia as in New York, China or Burkina Faso Jerusalem’s lament can be heard. Her voice joins the lament of the earth that groans with the weight of blood; shed not only in Jerusalem but in every nation. Each nation, each family of the earth has its voice, its unique tone. The merged voices have become a backdrop of suffering and fear that in their incessant presence have become familiar. These sounds are not comfortable but are always present, an undercurrent that if not recognized will pull its hearers to deafness. It’s a too easy solution to shut them out, to deny their existence. The raw sights and sounds of riots, bloodshed, violence and the lead-like weights on my heart have become my unwanted, uncomfortable yet familiar companions. I hear them all, a dissonant symphony, a chaotic abstract with each tone and color someone made like me, the image of God deeply engraved on every sacrifice and every survivor.