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Cartooning in Conflict
Chicago Nov. 4-6

Opinions
23/09/2006

God's Dreams

Jonathan Wittenberg

I arrived at just the wrong time and became an embarrassed witness to a furious family quarrel. My friend's father lost his temper and, marching out of the house, slammed the door behind him with such force that the glass flew out and shattered across the floor. There followed a long silence, filled with fear. Then I heard the sound of weeping. My friend's mother was saying to her children between sobs, 'I didn't want it to be like this for you'. Though I was only ten or eleven at the time, I've never forgotten that scene.

Maybe that's what God feels when the world's destroyed, when tens of thousands of people drown in the Tsunami, including many children, when killers blow up people on the bus, or when rockets or bombs fall on innocent people, turning them into shreds of flesh and bringing grief to all who know them. I imagine that God is weeping and thinking: 'I didn't mean it to be like this; I hadn't wanted it to be that way at all'.

 

When children are born, parents dream about how they'll grow up and who they'll become. I fantasise that God must have had such dreams for the world, dreams for the seas and forests, dreams for the birds and the animals and, above all, dreams and hopes for human beings. I imagine that on Rosh Hashanah, the world's birthday, God must be thinking about those dreams.

 

It isn't difficult to imagine what God's dreams must have been.

 

The world will be beautiful, from the first fashioned light to the last made human being. In spring the sunshine will glow in the new grass; in winter the evening twilight will burn between the trees. The forms of all living beings, how the heart beats, how the breath animates the body, will be intricate, awakening wonder. The immensity of the universe, how sound travels, how light bends, will humble the mind, inspiring awe.

 

The world will be shared. There will be differentiation, but no domination. No one will have a greater right than anyone else to work, seek companionship, raise children, pursue understanding. Everyone will respect the rhythm of the earth together, the rotation of its seasons and years.

 

The world will be ruled by the laws of respect. All people will recognise the humanity of all others. Through their own weakness they will understand other people's need for protection. Through the joy of partnership they will appreciate the universal need for fellowship and love.

 

The world will be a place of honesty and justice. The fulfilment of creation will be peace.

 

Such must have been God's dreams. But now God weeps because their shattered pieces lie scattered throughout the world.

 

Of course I don't literally believe that God cries. But the rabbis weren't shy of the image when describing the great tragedies of Jewish history. God weeps, and the angel Metatron, upset as any child who sees the face of his ever stoical father crumple in tears, says in distress, 'Let me weep, but you, God, you mustn't weep'. Yet God insists, declaring 'If you don't let me weep, I'll go where you can't reach me and there I'll weep alone'.

 

Yet, if God is present in us all, maybe God really does cry when parents bury their slaughtered child, when a man looks out at his ravaged fields planted with patient hope, when a little girl enters the room where her mother used to comfort her and finds it empty because she's dead and gone.

 

We, too, weep with God. We weep for the destruction of beauty and the murder of hope. We weep for the violence that afflicts so much of humankind and nature; we weep for the violence performed against us and for the violence performed, if not directly by us, then in our name. We weep because hatred and violence should exist at all. We weep because of the rapacious and competitive life style to which we've allowed ourselves to become enslaved.

 

A photographer friend showed me the pictures of homes and hospitals he'd taken in Iraq soon after the invasion. Parents and grandparents stood watch over their offspring; there were no medicines to treat their children, they had nothing to offer except their helpless presence. One pretty girl of three or four lay on her side protected by her mother's hand; the hand was half the size of the child. 'By now', he said to me, 'These children are almost certainly dead'.

 

We weep, too, for something greater than individual pain, we weep for hope itself. We weep because of that waste which Wilfred Owen so devastatingly described through the death of a soldier in the First World War:

  

   Move him into the sun -

   Gently its touch awoke him once...

 

   Think how it wakes the seeds, -

   Woke, once, the clays of a cold star.

   Are limbs, so dear-achieved, are sides,

   Full-nerved - still warm - too hard to stir?

   Was it for this the clay grew tall?

   - O what made fatuous sunbeams toil

   To break earth's sleep at all?

 

Perhaps, though, we shouldn't be so upset, but tougher and more cynical. Isn't life inevitably selfish, competitive, cruel and bloody? Why bother with dreams?

 

Yet we can't help ourselves. We persist in hoping and continuing with dreaming. After all, Israel's national anthem is Hatikvah, The Hope. And amidst the shock and ashes of  September 11, the most popular song in America was John Lennon's Imagine: 'You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one'.

 

We inherit the ineradicable legacy of being dreamers; dreaming cannot be uprooted from our souls.

 

Our life should be an affirmation that we still believe in God's dreams. Broken dreams are not necessarily irredeemable.

 

Two summers ago I was climbing up the narrow road that traverses the southern peninsula of Skye. The light was dull and the prospect of the steep hills ahead was sombre, when suddenly there came into sight above them the crowns and ridges of the Cuillin mountains, blue-grey through the mist, radiant in the distant sunlight. I stood still in spontaneous reverence; the world is full of beauty.

 

In spite of so much manifest hatred, the world is full of love as well.

 

There are countless people who strive for justice, peace and understanding. Only this week I met a woman who cares for refugee children traumatised by the loss of their parents from whom they were parted when they fled for their lives. I encounter people like her every week.

 

We are the custodians of God's dreams. It rests within our power to destroy them utterly. But it also lies within our capacity to bring them closer to fulfilment.

 

We live permanently on the borders between realisation and desecration. There, God's dreams are our great teachers, illuminating the path of responsibility that stretches through the unknown times ahead.

 

 

 

Jonathan Wittenberg

 

 





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