Opinion: Season of messages, promises and reminders

Spring hyacinth in snow

Spring hyacinth in snow Pixabay


Published: 04-06-2024 6:00 AM

Robert Azzi is a photographer and writer who lives in Exeter. His columns are archived at robertazzitheother.substack.com

Spring has been sprung for about a week. Sharp, pointy green shoots reaching for light appear through earth cracks and promise that soon crocuses and daffodils will emerge. Hopefully, near the granite steps that lead from the driveway a purple hyacinth, given to my daughter years ago by a friend at an Easter service in upstate New York, will again reappear and bloom.

“... And among his wonders is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the diversity of your tongues and colors: for in this, behold, there are messages indeed for all who are possessed of (innate) knowledge!” Qur’an 30:22 (Asad).

Generally, spring is a season of messages and promises, a harbinger of loves renewed, of scents, memories, promises, deliverance, and liberation. Most importantly it is a season that reminds us that to move forward we can’t ignore the lessons of Ramadan, Easter, and Passover; of Moses and Jesus and Muhammad; of Gandhi, Mandela, Malcolm X, and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; of John Brown and Rosa Parks; of Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner; of Jonathan Daniels who sacrificed himself to save a 17-year-old girl, Ruby Sales, who went on to become a legendary civil rights and social justice activist and public theologian: all were the ‘Others’ of their day who rose against authority and intolerance and helped deliver humanity into the light.

... for in this, behold, there are messages indeed for all who are possessed of (innate) knowledge ...

Today I’ve decided to share some thoughts — a pastiche, if you will, added to my Mezze — inspired by Christendom’s Holy Week, all offered with love and respect: Forgive me, please, for any trespasses I might inadvertently express but these are thoughts that have been welling-up not just this week but for the past several months.

Welling-up in part after a long talk with a loved one who professes a life so secular that it’s unlikely their school-age children, by their own admission, know anything about churches, mosques, or synagogues — even (fortunately) less about covens, cabals, and cults. When asked, they readily identify as atheist yet in my experience I have rarely met someone as committed to issues of liberation, justice, freedom, and equality, committed to the belief that all people are created equal, all without prejudice or favor.

I would remind them today, I should have done it when we were chatting, of Rumi’s quest:

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“I looked for God. I went to a temple and I didn’t find him there. Then I went to a church and I didn’t find him there. Then I went to a mosque and I didn’t find him there. Then finally I looked in my heart and there he was.”

I looked in my heart.

It reminds me too today of another colleague, a Christian, once described by a Muslim brother of mine as “a better Muslim than most Muslims I know.”

A Muslim who serves all of humanity as well as they serve God.

They serve from their heart.

... for in this, behold, there are messages indeed for all who are possessed of (innate) knowledge ...

I cannot write this week without speaking of Gaza, without speaking of genocide and ethnic cleansing and the forced famine and starvation of our Christian and Muslim brothers and sisters under occupation in Palestine.

Gaza, Auschwitz, Hiroshima, My Lai, 9/11, October 7, Srebrenica, Abu Ghraib, all in my lifetime all came to mind during Holy Week as Christians celebrated from Palm Sunday through Jerusalem’s gates to Mount Cavalry, crucifixion, and the Christian belief in resurrection as Gaza’s children were being sacrificed on altars of power, privilege, prejudice — and vengeance.

Today, they say He is risen: What is it I ask that is risen?

Here’s what I believe.

I believe that from Isaiah we are instructed, “To loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke.” Isaiah 58:6 (NRSV).

I believe, to my simple unexegetically-schooled mind, that a humble Jesus, astride a donkey, entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday over 2,000 years ago not to empower privileged clergy and acolytes who would from Jerusalem for centuries forward distort scripture to legitimize colonialism and slavery. No, I believe he entered on behalf of the people of Gaza, on behalf of Rohingya in Myanmar and Uyghur in China, on behalf of BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ peoples and indigenous peoples everywhere.

I believe that Jesus entered Jerusalem on behalf of those Palestinian Christians who this weekend were forced to pray to a belief in resurrection while fearfully huddling in a church destroyed by armaments supplied by President Biden to an Israeli government so bent on vengeance and evil that they are willing to commit genocide and ethnic cleansing.

“Fear and anger are a threat to justice,” Bryan Stevenson wrote in “Just Mercy.” “They can infect a community, a state, or a nation, and make us blind, irrational, and dangerous.”

Let us stand in resistance to the blind and irrational.

I believe my friends and colleagues stand alongside me in resistance; from Sharpeville to Stonewall, from Ferguson to Gaza, from Rafah to Ramallah — from the River to the Sea — they are unflinching and unbending in their commitment to freedom and independence for all peoples.

I love that, and consider myself blessed to have such people in my life.

Would that we were all free to rise.

I believe that when Jesus is asked in Matthew, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” and he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets,” that he was addressing all of humanity, that the meaning of neighbors is universal, not parochial.

They serve from their heart.