I’m writing this column during this last week of November, when the penultimate full moon of the year has shown us her beautiful face. The full moon shines through my window just as it does halfway across the world, over a temporary truce between Israel and Hamas, as they exchange hostages and prisoners. We don’t know how long the truce will last. Perhaps by the time this newsletter is sent around, it will be over and the fighting will have resumed. Or maybe the peace will continue. It is a brief relief to read about families being united with their loved ones, rather than airstrikes and death tolls. I join with those who pray for a lasting peace and who call for a ceasefire, a group which includes our own Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations in this statement from October 17.
I often speak about how part of being a Unitarian Universalist is to contend with the coexistence of multiple truths, while also seeking clarity on what is true for us in our own lives. Never before have I felt such an intensity of coexisting-yet-opposing truths as I have felt over the past six weeks, almost two months, since Hamas’ horrific attacks on October 7. There are people who believe that 1948, the founding of the State of Israel, was a catastrophe, not out of antisemitism but out of concern for the lives of Palestinians which have been endangered and brutalized ever since. There are others who cherish 1948 as their year of independence, not out of Islamophobia or hatred of Arabs, but out of their desire for a Jewish state, especially in the aftermath of the Holocaust. According to the people who hold these positions, each of their positions is the truth, rooted in their experiences and their ancestors’ experiences, including experiences of trauma.
Emotions run high when we try to talk about what is going on for the people of Israel and Palestine, to say the least. As Dr. Gabor Maté, Hungarian/Canadian Holocaust survivor, physician, and specialist in trauma and addiction, said, we need to address the issue of Israel and Palestine from a space of regulation, rather than from a state of heightened emotion. He explained in an October 28 online conversation with his daughter Hannah:
We’re entitled to our emotions but when we’re emotional and only emotional, our perspective narrows. It becomes defensive and we get consumed by self-defense: understandable but it doesn’t lead to peace. What leads to peace is a willingness to understand the experience of the other. And for us to be guided by the parts of our brain that are adult: the mid-frontal cortex where empathy, insight, compassion, and self-awareness are modulated. We need to deal with our emotions not to repress them, not to reject them, but also not to let them be the guides of our actions. Especially when our emotions are conditioned by a view of history that for the most part excludes the experience of the other.
Our Unitarian Universalist faith calls us to consider the experience of the “other,” which can be hard to do when we feel defensive or angry. I love Dr. Maté’s message because I am always interested in how we make space for difficult emotions while contending with our complicated and hurting world. Just as he and his daughter do in the middle of this video, it helps me to take a deep breath when I am feeling intense emotions. How do you deal with difficult emotions? How has this conflict continued to impact you over the past couple of months? What actions have you felt inspired to take?
Yours in faith,
Yours in faith,