Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Buber in a Graveyard in Worms

For reasons too complex and personal to discuss here, I have developed over the years a deep emotional connection with all things "Jewish." I'm a Christian, but when I visit churches I often get the feeling of being out of place, that this is not my home and that there is so much more going on then that to which the Church witnesses to. The tension, if that's what it is, was highlighted for me on a recent visit to Worms, one of the Ashkenazi holy cities here in Germany. It has the oldest Jewish graveyard in Europe. As I stood amongst the broken stones I looked up at the cathedral I felt the painful tension: where do I belong? Who is our God and what is he doing? I was reminded of a Buber quote, which has become for me one of all my all time favorites (alongside another, related quote by Bonhoeffer).

I live a short distance from the city of Worms, to which I am also tied by ancestral tradition; and from time to time I visit there. When I do so, I always go first to the cathedral. It is a visible harmony of members, a whole in which no part deviates from the norm of perfection. I walk around the cathedral, gazing at it in perfect joy. Then I go to the Jewish cemetery. It is consists of cracked and crooked stones without shape or direction. I enter the cemetery and look up from this disorder to the marvelous harmony of the cathedral, and it seems to me as if I were looking from Israel up to the Church. Here below there is no suggestion of form, only the stones and the ashes beneath the stones. The ashes are there, no matter how they have been scattered. The corporeality of human beings who have become ashes is there. It is there. It is there for me. It is there for me, not as corporeality within the space of this planet, but as corporeality deep in my own memories, back into the depths of history, back as far as Sinai.
I have stood there; I have been united with the ashes and through them with the patriarchs. That is a remembrance of the divine-human encounter which is granted to all Jews. The perfection of the Christian God-space cannot divert me from this; nothing can divert me from the God-time of Israel.
I have stood there and I have experienced everything myself. I have experienced all the death that was before me; all the ashes, all the desolation, all the noiseless wailings become mine. But the covenant has not been withdrawn for me. I lie on the ground, prostrate like these stones. But it has not been withdrawn for me.
The cathedral is as it is. The cemetery is as it is. But nothing has been withdrawn for us." [*]
[*] Martin Buber, "Church, State, Nation, Jewry," Christianity: Some None-Christian Appraisals, ed. David W. McKain (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964) 186-87.

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