What Is the Spiritual Response to Gaza?

The war that ignited last week in the Middle East has left me deeply distressed and confused. Distressed that heinous acts and the rageful reactions they provoke are feeding a murderous cycle; confused as I struggle to find a meaningful spiritual response.

I see the wheel of violence and revenge rolling forward, ages old, and I desperately want something to change, to make this time different, to free us from the macabre theater that will play itself out over months or years until our capacity for carnage is exhausted.

I am confronted with the bloodshed and atrocities of war and the prospects for a widening conflict destabilizing the region.

I am staggered by the devastation of cities and homes, the sickening loss of life, the oceans of grief, and the trauma that will last for generations.

I am paralyzed by the cultural and geopolitical complexities that fog our collective vision as we seek a path out of the bramble bush.

I am consumed with a desire to distinguish right from wrong, to understand what drives people to commit slaughter and to fathom a reply that does not match its depravity. I long for a clean line that separates good from evil, that labels which acts of violence are justified, even as I realize that the maelstrom of war eventually blurs and breaks those lines.

And I yearn for guidance. I cry out for answers in a landscape where answers don’t make sense.

Whatever spiritual response we might struggle toward, it has to support our greater spiritual mission, the way we understand the ultimate purpose of why we are here. Life’s dilemmas sharpen our understanding of that purpose and force us to choose actions that are congruent with it.

 For me, the core of my spirituality understands the universe to be undergirded by a conscious, loving intelligence. I sense that we are connected to this intelligence and to each other. The dilemmas in my life lead me to find deeper ways of aligning with this intelligence and deepening this connection. How can I do this given what is happening in Gaza? Today, in my current state of stumbling toward an answer, I look inside my soul and hear two responses:  to witness and to love.

To witness means to stay open to the searing pain I see, even as the horror grows. It means to increase my capacity to turn toward the pain and fear of the people experiencing it and hold them in my heart, the physical spot where I connect most vividly with the loving awareness of the cosmos. That is a big task when my visceral reaction is to recoil from the pain, the grief, the rage, the senselessness, the confusion, the despair. But if the people there can endure it, the least I can do is turn toward them and be with them in their suffering.    

To love means to hold an empathetic concern for all involved – combatants, civilians, politicians, journalists, Palestinians, Israelis – all. Even as I write these words, I feel a revulsion rising within me because I realize I am asking myself to love people who are in the wrong, people who are causing pain through acts of cruelty. But I also realize that love does not flow by evaluating merit; it flows like a river, drenching everything. To be otherwise is to act as if the problem could be solved by assigning blame, as if it were possible to sift among the bodies and sort them into the worthy and the worthless.

When I look at the current war in Gaza, I see that the hurts and histories of everyone are real, felt deeply in their respective bones as surely as the sunrise. If the stories of these histories do not change, then there is little hope that any action will lessen the horrific scale of this tragedy. The wounds inflicted will demand reprisal and counter-reprisal and the bonfire of hate and rage will grow, calcifying the stories even more. There has to be another way.

What can unwind the stories that have grown together in the twisted thicket that has brought us here? I don’t pretend to understand it all, but I know it has to include the capacity to open to our mutual grief and love our way through it.

I continue to struggle. For now, I am meeting my dilemma by choosing to be a vehicle for more light in the world and encouraging others to join me. My spiritual response is this:  replace certitude with openness; err on the side of loving; turn toward suffering; hold it all; shut out nothing.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

5 Replies to “What Is the Spiritual Response to Gaza?”

  1. You express so well Steve what I have been feeling. But here’s my dilemma. Yes I can keep my heart open to pain. Yes I can love, and try to love, all sides in this conflict. Yes I can look at reducing conflict in all my relationships. Yet I am struggling with how living my quiet, privileged, easy life can make one jot of difference to someone right now in Israel or Gaza who has seen their family massacred or is fleeing their home in constant fear of their lives. I can’t comprehend such pain. It is unknown territory for me. My head and soul believes that we are all connected yet it feels arrogant in the extreme to presume that I can make any kind of difference. So my heart shrivels and I weep.

  2. I relate.

    I have faith and affirm God’s might several times daily. It’s the escalating fight between good and evil and it’s racing its peak.

    Good will prevail. God will prevail.

    1. Nice thought Anneli, to affirm your connection to God several times daily. It reminds me of the Islamic practice of praying five times daily, and also Paul’s advice to “pray unceasingly.”

      I am trying to incorporate multiple periods of contemplative connection throughout the day as part of my spiritual practice.

  3. I certainly can sympathize with Geraldine’s feelings. The temptation to withdraw from the chaos of our world and become a psychological island is very tempting indeed.

    Steve’s spiritual response seems to be in agreement with what Krishnamurti suggests in the following quote and can be summed up in one word: compassion

    “Psychologically, you cannot be separate from another.
    The desire to be separate is the very source of danger and destruction. Each person by asserting oneself threatens one’s own existence.

    “When the truth of this is seen and understood, one’s responsibility undergoes a radical change, not only towards the immediate environment, but towards all living things. This total responsibility is compassion. This compassion acts through intelligence. This intelligence is not partial, individual, separate. Compassion is never partial. Compassion is for the sacredness of all living things.”

  4. Hi Geraldine. I understand your response to the pain in Gaza, it is overwhelming. And that is the reason I decided to write about my own struggle in responding to the terror in Gaza.

    I think our interior efforts do, in fact, have an effect. I strongly feel our connection to Spirit, to the planet and to each other. And, the struggle I go through in coming to terms with the horror of war is also helpful directly to me and people I interact with in my daily life. It softens me to all kinds of pain, and also opens me to feel more deeply all kinds of joy.

    I like your take on it, Kurt, that we can frame it in terms of compassion. Choosing to act, externally and internally, with compassion can change us.

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