July 2018 Archives


In these days when the sun is darkened by smoke
And the moon is turned to blood
In these days of earthquake, fire and flood
In these days unprecedented, unprecedented,
In these days when vain and fatuous men
Hurl words of mushroom cloud, ash and inferno,
In this dark time
When millions flee from famine, war and storm
We turn to you, The One
Our only refuge.
This day you set before us life and death.
Strengthen us, make firm our tongues
To speak your truth
To men of war and oil.
Let us choose life!


When I think of war, and of the lessons of history, my mind goes first to the Romano-Jewish historian Josephus' account of the siege and destruction of Jerusalem by Titus in 70 CE. A vast number of civilians--over a million according to Josephus--were gathered in the city to celebrate Passover. They were besieged and starved until the final onslaught by fire and sword.

But when (the Roman legions) went in numbers into the lanes of the city, with their swords drawn, they slew those whom they overtook, without mercy, and set fire to the houses wither the Jews were fled, and burnt every soul in them, and laid waste a great many of the rest; and when they were come to the houses to plunder them, they found in them entire families of dead men, and the upper rooms full of dead corpses, that is of such as died by the famine; they then stood in a horror at this sight, and went out without touching anything. But although they had this commiseration for such as were destroyed in that manner, yet had they not the same for those that were still alive, but they ran every one through whom they met with, and obstructed the very lanes with their dead bodies, and made the whole city run down with blood, to such a degree indeed that the fire of many of the houses was quenched with these men's blood. And truly so it happened, that though the slayers left off at the evening, yet did the fire greatly prevail in the night.

That was in the ancient world--a world where slavery was a fact of life and international law did not exist. It was a world where total war, war upon civilians, was accepted, where might was right.

Today, as incendiary bombs rain upon the starving people of Ghouta, Syria, I ask myself--have we learned nothing? Have we learned nothing from the siege of Jerusalem except how to besiege, starve and burn civilians more effectively?

Have we learned nothing from the siege and destruction of Constantinople by the Crusaders? War upon war, siege after siege, human history has rolled on, bringing us to the horrors of the Twentieth Century. And after eighteen million died in the First World War--my uncle Albert among them--and perhaps eighty million perished in the Second World War, did we not say, 'Never Again?'

WE THE PEOPLES OF THE UNITED NATIONS DETERMINED to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,

AND FOR THESE ENDS to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours, and to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security, and to ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest, and to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples,


These are fine and lofty words, born of the bitter experience of two horrific wars. Yet even after this charter was written, the US dropped a million tons of bombs on North Korea, used napalm and chemical weapons and killed 20% of the civilian population. Are we surprised the North Korea feels impelled to have its own nuclear weapons? Have we learned nothing?

Even after this charter was written and this noble resolve made, the Twentieth Century continued its sorry course--Vietnam, Iran-Iraq, Ruanda, Bosnia, the Gulf War. Have we learned nothing?

Fireworks around the world ushered in a new millennium. The Twentieth Century was over. The century of horrific wars had ended, yet the horror continued. Iraq. Afghanistan. Chechnia. Somalia. Gaza. Darfur. South Sudan. Ukraine. The Democratic Republic of Congo. Syria. Yemen. Syria.

A million Syrians have been killed in a war almost seven years long. Over five million are refugees living in miserable conditions with no future to hope for. Eastern Ghouta has been besieged and starved for five long years. And the UN Security Council is impotent to enforce international law and protect the civilian population.

Today, as incendiary bombs rain upon the 400,000 starving civilians of Eastern Ghouta, I ask myself, what would Titus have given for incendiary bombs? My sisters, my brothers, have we learned nothing in two millennia except how to wreak greater havoc?

Let us awaken from our sleep, We the People of the World. Let us rise up for peace. Let us make our voices heard, even while 'our earthly rulers slumber.' Let us speak out, let us take to the streets, for Gouta, for Syria, for Yemen, for the children of the world. Let us combine our efforts to accomplish the aim of peace.


"Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope.
Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith.
Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we must be saved by love.
Reinhold Niebuhr, The Irony of American History

Greetings dear ones,

The dark time of the year is a time for hope. Light is reborn as we ring out the old year and ring in the new. What are our dreams and visions for 2018? What do we long to see in ourselves, in our world? Hope is one of the three theological virtues, gifts of God to the human soul. Our capacity to hope comes from divine grace. Yet hope is more than a noun. As poetry columnist David Orr wrote, 'hope is a verb with its shirtsleeves rolled up.'

To hope is a powerful act. Yet there are moments for each of us when the circumstances of our own lives or of the world around us make it challenging to keep hope alive. As a writer and poet, my path is to dive into the darkness and bring forth the seeds of light. As a spiritual teacher, my role is to illumine, inspire and uplift. Yet as a prophetic voice, I am also tasked with telling it like it is, speaking the truth of our condition. And our condition is dire--in terms of social justice, human rights, the environment. One year into the Trump administration, for me as perhaps for many of us, there are moments when it is difficult to keep hope alive.

When I recall all the painstakingly crafted environmental regulations that have been erased at the stroke of a pen, it is difficult to keep hope alive. When I see beautiful, wild landscapes sullied by fracking or contaminated by leaking oil pipelines, it is difficult to keep hope alive. When Native rights are trampled upon and Black lives still don't seem to matter, it is difficult to keep hope alive. When I know that ice sheets are melting at unprecedented rates, and wildfires raging as never before, it is difficult to keep hope alive. When I remember the utter devastation of once-beautiful ancient cities like Aleppo, Jabar, Homs, Hama, it is difficult to keep hope alive. When I think of sixty-five million forcibly displaced people worldwide, surpassing even post World War II levels, it is difficult to keep hope alive. When I know that cities are besieged and even an entire country blockaded-- and the world does not act--it is difficult to keep hope alive. When I think of the tears of mothers who have lost their children--to gang violence, to police shootings, to missiles, to suicide bombers, to starvation, to cholera, to lack of basic medical care --it is difficult to keep hope alive.

And yet, keep hope alive I must, or in its place will spring the noxious weeds of cynicism, apathy and despair. Keep hope alive I must, or I too will acquiesce to atrocity. Keep hope alive I must, or I myself will become what most I abhor. "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?" Hillel, Ethics of the Fathers, 1:14

Hope is a gift of grace sown in our hearts by the divine spirit. It is up to us to water and tend it every day. When I need to water the seeds of hope, I think of the Somali woman in a refugee camp who has gathered a group of orphan children and cares for them with her UN rations. I think of a little Iranian boy who, after the recent earthquake, guides a still smaller girl to the food relief truck. He has no thought for himself, he only cares that the little girl gets a meal. I think of Chris Parker, the homeless man who rushed into the arena after the Manchester bombing to help, cradling a dying woman in his arms. I think of Lassana Bathily, a Muslim employee who, during the terrorist attack on a kosher grocery store in Paris, saved a group of customers by hiding them in the freezer.

I think of the Orthodox rabbi and the Reform rabbi in Auschwitz, who discussed Torah together every day on their way to forced labour. I think of Tibetans who practiced loving-kindness towards their Chinese torturers. I think of the lepers in India who invited us to share their meager supper. Every day, I water the seeds of hope by recalling the basic goodness of ordinary human beings in the face of extraordinary suffering. I keep hope alive by contemplating goodness. And I know that acts of extreme cruelty and callousness are distortions, while courage, kindness and goodness reflect our essential nature.

And when I come close to despair about environmental destruction, I remember that Nature, Gaia, Bhu Devi, our Mother Earth, is ancient and wise. Even as we inflict upon her the sterility of concrete and asphalt, she will prevail.

Did you hear about the rose that grew
from a crack in the concrete?
Proving nature's law is wrong it
learned to walk with out having feet.
Funny it seems, but by keeping its dreams,
it learned to breathe fresh air.
Long live the rose that grew from concrete
when no one else ever cared.

Tupac Shakur.

The same divine spirit that planted hope in our hearts has breathed life into the earth. Although I am here for just a brief while more, I trust that life, riotous, incorrigible, burgeoning life, will grow and blossom long after I am forgotten. And she herself, life herself, Nature herself, will continue to bring forth heroes and advocates to defend her abundance and beauty from those who put power and profit over life and love.

And for all this, nature is never spent;

There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;

And though the last lights off the black West went

Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs --

Because the Holy Ghost over the bent

World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Gerard Manley Hopkins

I wish you a year of peace and joy, and may the flame of hope burn brightly in your hearts throughout 2018 and beyond.




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    About this Archive

    This page is an archive of entries from July 2018 listed from newest to oldest.

    December 2016 is the previous archive.

    August 2018 is the next archive.

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