After mourning the disastrous destructions of two ancient Temples in Jerusalem, Jewish tradition calls us to recite the words of Isaiah:
"Be comforted, be comforted, My people." ("Nachamu, nachamu, ami")
Today, as an American with both my own personal roots in learning and living our American history, and my own roots in Jewish spiritual wisdom, I feel like chanting that passage.
For the last seven years, our Holy Temple -- the Declaration of Independence , the Constitution, and our unsteady progress toward a real democracy -- has been deeply damaged (not yet destroyed) by the present government of the United States. Our unsteady progress has been not merely paralyzed, but reversed. I have had to ask myself the dreadful question, can it be renewed, rebirthed?
Having watched Senator Hillary Clinton's extraordinary speech yesterday, having watched Senator Barack Obama's extraordinary speech "A More Perfect Union" some weeks ago, I felt the breath of fresh and cooling air that is the first sign of the winds of change that could redeem our country from disaster. I heard the voice, "Be comforted!"
Not that these candidates or any others carry the messianic possibility that Jewish tradition says is born on the very day the Temple is destroyed. They are not messianic, not utopian; but they carry the practical vision of a workable transformation.
It wasn't just that Senator Clinton's speech with great good sense and generosity made clear her commitment to supporting Senator Obama's candidacy for President. Her speech went far beyond that, just as his had gone far beyond the issue of his pastor.
Her speech at last spoke something of the true voice of American feminism -- far beyond the question of a single woman's political advancement, even far beyond the inclusion of all women in the fullness of the body politic and social, to the question of making real the kind of community that includes us all and speaks to our deep comradeship in America, in the human community, in the planet.
It did this much as Senator Obama's great speech had risen not only to advance the career of one African-American politician but to face the history of race in America and to go beyond even the full inclusion of Blacks in the American body politic and social and even beyond the honoring of those (white and Black) who were burdened by resentment and hostility arising from the struggle -- beyond these to hinting once again toward Martin Luther King's vision of the Beloved Community.
In the beginning, great bodies of our folk were excluded from the Declaration and the Constitution: – women, Blacks, Native Americans, the poor and unpropertied, the fields and seas and winds and mountains that we originally thought were merely objects and instruments of work – the objects of I-It, not the companions of I-Thou.
For centuries we have struggled to embody a vision that lay only hidden within the words of those Founding Fathers. But we have lived through seven years of reversal -- in which the arrogance of those in power led to the shattering of another nation, the despoiling of our own, greater and greater concentrations of wealth, the poisoning of our planet for the sake of the profits of Big Oil and Coal, the spawning of legal theories to legitimate torture, the destruction of a great American city, the sycophancy of our press.
All the signs of Pharaoh – not a single person, but a set of allied, overlapping pharaoh-like institutions. Institutions that like the biblical Pharaoh could not turn back from disaster even when their own advisers and appointees called out to them, "Can you not see that you are shattering America?" (Exodus 10:7)
And yet, and yet -- Be comforted, be comforted, my people!
For now we have caught a glimpse of how women and Blacks can at their best, precisely because they were excluded, call forth the politics of inclusion – not of this particular identity or that, but of us all.
And since we have seen how a politcal campaign itself can transform the candidates as well as their grass-roots supporters, we might yet hope to see the transformation of a candidate who has premised his candidacy on his own record as a war hero and a patriot -- to remember the words and renew the sense of what it means to be a patriot: "O Beautiful for patriots' dream that sees beyond the years -- thine alabaster cities gleam, undimmed by human tears!"
But the transformation of candidates is not nearly so important as the transformation of their grass-roots supporters. Some of those who supported Clinton have been focusing on what she should do next. But the far more important question is what her supporters and activists should be doing. Should the lists of donors and activists be made into a new and immensely expanded network for action -- to pass health insurance, for example? Michelle Obama has been saying at rallies around the country that the grass-roots activism of this campaign must not end on Election Day or Inauguration Day. Does this vision and intention apply to the Clinton campaign? If it does, shouldn't the conversation be focused on how to make that happen?
Be comforted, be comforted, my people. But remember:"comfort" is not the lolling of the comfortable, but the spiritual work of turning hope into reality.
With blessings of shalom, salaam, peace –- wholeness.
Rabbi Arthur Waskow