The Field and the Space

By Phoebe C. Godfrey

I do expect from people, outsiders, … unless they themselves come from Israel or Palestine or they have relatives there, … if you are just an outsider, don’t be intellectually lazy, don’t be emotionally lazy, don’t see just part of this terrible reality, try to see as much of the reality as you can, because the people there now, in the midst of this suffering, they are incapable of doing it, but we need outsiders to somehow keep a space for future peace, because we can’t keep that space right now.

—Yuval Noah Harari on the war in 

Israel and Gaza, Zeit online

Since the atrocities committed (and ongoing, as people are still being held hostage) by Hamas against unsuspecting and innocent Israelis on October 7, I have been thinking about what Mevlana Rumi, the Persian poet, wrote: “Beyond good and bad, there is a field, I’ll meet you there.” Additionally, I have been asking myself what it takes to reach this field, this space, proposing that it can only emerge to the extent we allow our hearts to break open, but not apart. 

Since Israel began its bombing of Gaza (part of an ongoing 50-year violent and racist occupation), violating human rights, including the Geneva Convention, which prohibits reprisals against civilians for the acts of enemy soldiers, I have been thinking about what it takes to embody the teaching of the prophet Jesus, who very clearly said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also” (Matthew 5:38–39). 

From both these enlightened teachings, I catch a glimmer of what it must mean to embody grace and, if there is a God/Goddess, to honor how they have called for us to emulate and embrace the complexities of perspective. When we are in our pain, in our beliefs, in our reality, it is almost impossible to see the other’s pain, the other’s beliefs, the other’s reality, but that does not mean they are not there, and that they are not equally valid from where the other is standing. This is not to say that there are no conceptions of right and wrong, that there are not international laws, human rights laws, treaties, and agreements that we can and should use to help guide us and seek justice, but rather that we must always recognize that justice is a transformative journey and requires above all else that we proceed with deep love and empathy, not just for ourselves but for others, including our enemies.

On that day, October 7, a Saturday, I informally officiated at a wedding between a young French/Swiss Orthodox Jewish man and a French/Tunisian Arab woman who fell in love against the social odds and the wishes of his family but not hers. I said to them that their love is more than our typical socially sanctioned love. It is a challenge to our segregating and tribal ways and as such it is a love that must be held and nurtured with great care and kindness, as it offers hope for the world. I told them I felt honored on that day to bring their love, their traditions, their faiths, and their stories together to help teach us that the field is there, if only we have the courage and the humility to see it.

Since that day, many around the world have been taking this journey to see and even to create the field. Among those who moved me deeply is an Israeli man, Maoz Inan, whose parents, Bilha and Yakov, were killed by Hamas but whose heartfelt words can and should teach us so much. He stated in an interview with the BBC, “I am not crying for my parents, I am crying for those who will lose their lives in this war. We must stop the war!” 

Or Youssef Ziadna, the Bedouin bus driver who saved 30 Israelis at a music festival from Hamas’s massacre, risking his own life. He said afterwards, “I knew I couldn’t give up on my mission. I will go and rescue them.” He added, “I would never wish on anyone to see what I saw… This is trauma for my whole life. When I sit alone and recollect, I can’t help the tears.”

Or members of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), who have been organizing protests across the U.S., including the largest-ever pro-Palestine protests in D.C., demanding a ceasefire and that “Jewish grief must not be used as a weapon of war.” Acknowledging the increasing number of Palestinians killed, including at the time almost 3,000 children, and calling Israel’s action “a genocide,” JVP also demanded that the Israeli government: 

  1. immediately cease its bombing of Gaza.
  2. allow all life-saving humanitarian needs to enter Gaza, including water, fuel, food, and medicine.
  3. begin direct negotiations for Israeli hostages.

Or our friend, a Presbyterian pastor in Hartford, who is married to a Christian Palestinian musician whose family in Bethlehem are in lockdown. Last week she focused her sermon on inviting her congregation to connect deeply with their hearts and spirits and from there to do the hard work of grieving, advocating for justice, and bringing about healing. 

Or my own brother, who is Jewish (I am not, as we share a father but not a mother) and lives in Israel with his Israeli wife and three children, and who yesterday led a prayer ceremony “dedicated to the work with the community that is on the other side of the threshold…looking at how the living and the dead are part of the same organism that is called life,” in which work he included all the dead and all the living. On this side of the Atlantic, the ceremony was joined by my wife, Tina, and a friend of ours, who together smoked the sacred Chanunpa (pipe), a Lakota way of sending prayers, while I too sent prayers from where I happened to be outside of the state.

These are, of course, just a few of the many, many examples of those on both sides who are seeking higher spiritual ground and doing what they can, where they can, in order to try to do what Israeli author Yuval Noah Harari proposes—in short, that if you are not directly in “the pain,” “don’t beintellectually lazy [or] emotionally lazy” and “just see part of this terrible reality,” but rather “try to see as much of the reality as you can” to hold “a space for future peace.” And if you are in “the pain,” find community and healing so you too can make your way to Rumi’s field, to a future space for peace, as we will need as many people as possible there if we are to do the hard work that reconnects and redirects those lands, this world, toward justice. 

What to the [fill in the blank] Is the Fourth of July?

By Phoebe Godfrey

I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought light and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.

—Frederick Douglass, July 5, 1852

It is July 4, 2023, and I am called to revisit the powerful and poignant words of the great orator and former slave Frederick Douglass. In his speech “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” he was able to both honor the Founding Fathers “for the good they did, and the principles they contended for” (no doubt a necessary political stance) while nevertheless still calling attention to the dire contradictions embedded in their words due to slavery (which included their ownership of humans from Africa as slaves) and its justification through legally based racism. As Douglass points out so contrastingly, “The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me.… You may rejoice, I must mourn.” 

Yes, he must have mourned, for what else could he, or any others who were still or had been enslaved, have done? Of course he/they struggled and still are struggling as slavery’s legacy continues and thus, I am sure, Douglass would still be mourning, as should any of us be who have ever been moved by the aspirations of the Declaration of Independence and contrasted them with our failure to make them a reality. For the Declaration unequivocally states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” and yet we still have not achieved these lofty goals. In fact, it can be stated that because of the so-called “highest court of the land,” the Supreme Court, we have been going backwards. So, for me, if today is to mean anything, it must be a reminder of how far we have yet to go and how, until we get there, we too must also mourn, even as we continue to struggle! 

Therefore, today I am not marching in our local parade (as I usually do while engaging in some manner of protest), I am not having a bar-b-q, I am not socializing, but rather I am mourning by writing this piece and listing all the things for which I am mourning.

In presenting what I am mourning, I want to affirm that my inclusion of other reasons to mourn besides slavery are not in any way intended to question Douglass’s focus on those people who were, or whose ancestors were, once enslaved. Rather my goal is to recognize that in our collective mourning we are stronger. Even if my list does not include all your reasons, it is nevertheless an attempt to give you permission to voice your own. For the words of the Declaration, I think, can only be viscerally understood by those who still have not been “included within the pale of this glorious anniversary.” As such, on this day we must continue to listen to the least powerful among us, as opposed to allowing those for whom these words have delivered Rights, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness (tragically, most often at the expense of others) to declare them a done deal for the rest of us. 

“You may rejoice,” usually epitomized by the waving of the stars and stripes as if the flag speaks for all, “I [we] must mourn.” Today I mourn…

that Douglass’s descendants still do not enjoy what he called “the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence” (see video made by NPR of his descendants reading his speech in 2020).

that the Supreme Court ruling on affirmative action in universities will further impact the exclusiveness of the Declaration (while the members of the Court make sure they enjoy their own Rights, Liberty, and pursuit of Happiness, even to being above the law).

that the tyranny of the British monarchy was merely exchanged for the tyranny of capitalism and corporate control over all aspects of government, never for the people—always for profit. 

the Supreme Court’s ruling that separation of church and state does not extend to website design for LGBTQIA-2-Spirit people and that selective prohibitions from the Old Testament can once again become law. (Why focus only on those who are “homosexual” when meanwhile designing websites for those who commit adultery, talk back to their parents, eat unripe fruit, and work on the Sabbath, who are also on God’s kill list and thus should also be on the plaintiff’s list of unworthy customers?) 

the Supreme Court’s unpopular, unrealistic, and sexist ruling on reproductive rights. What have we done since to support the Life and Liberty of those who can get pregnant? Nothing! This ruling was merely about misogyny, patriarchy, and control, with nothing about loving the born—only the unborn! 

the Supreme Court’s ruling on student loan debt. Even the God of the Old Testament dictated in Deuteronomy 15 that every seven years there should be a release of debts…so much for the Court’s consistency! 

that there are daily reports of fires, heatwaves, floods, and species extinctions, and yet the focus remains on whether the Dow Jones is up or down, as if as long as somebody is making money somewhere, it justifies the destruction of Life (isn’t that one of the Declaration’s promises?) on earth.

that daily shootings in this country continue to be a leading cause of death of young people—and this isn’t just about the mass shootings, but the ones in our impoverished cities that go mostly unreported.

that Indigenous voices are still not being respected, let alone lands being returned, nor are the Indigenous being seen as holding key insights into practices that could help us address the toxicity of our own culture, which is resulting in climate collapse for all.

Add yours…

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