23 / 04 / 20
Our Fundraising and Development Manager, Josh Cass, reflects on the symbology and inspiration of Noah’s Rainbow Covenant, and a re-imagined world post-lockdown
You, like me are probably reading and rereading these words alone. In isolation, distanced from friends and family. Perhaps you are in quarantine (something which I have so far avoided) but here I am at 36 days of lockdown and the challenge of differentiating one day from another is becoming more of a reality.
Where I am lucky though is that I have two young children (and Nat, to whom I am married) to give me distractions and whose energy fills my days with pleasure. Perhaps as a parent I am more aware of these things, I do not know, but it feels like so much creativity and care is being given to making this strange time exciting for children, to distance and protect them from the fear and anxiety that many of us feel. That said, I yearn for the day when they can be back with their friends; they, like us, need their friends. Lets face it, adults, with their nagging and their rules and their phones are far too confusing, and a bit dull.
Childish rainbows were quick to pop up in the windows of homes in the streets around where I live. I think that the idea was that rainbows are colourful and simple enough for even the youngest child to draw, and that in placing these pictures in our windows we would brighten up the neighbourhood for everyone.
At the time, I thought nothing of it, but in the days that followed, I have kept returning to the rainbows. To me, rainbows mean the biblical story of Noah, and Noah means The Flood, and the more I thought, the stranger the choice of picture got. After all, in the story of Noah the rainbow appears after the floodwaters have receded and all life on Earth (bar Noah, his family and the animals in the Ark) has been wiped out. And why were they wiped out? Because of the sin and corruption of the antediluvian society.
Is this the story we want to tell now? Of a corrupt and sinful society beyond redemption requiring extermination? I sincerely hope not, nor do I believe it.
So what am I to do with the Rainbows? Is there another way to look at this symbol?
Well. Yes. For although the rainbow appeared after the Flood was over, it also appeared at a specific moment. In the Hebrew Bible the rainbow is the symbol of the covenant between God and Noah, a promise that God will never again bring such destruction. Furthermore, at that moment of promise, humans are given a code by which to live so as to avert future destruction. That code is known as the Noahide Code or the Noahide Laws and it is a list of seven laws for all of humanity to live by.
Some theologians have suggested that when biblical texts refer to “forty days and forty nights” it is another way of saying something happened for a very long time. One such episode which lasted a very long time were the rains which brought Noah’s flood. Whether or not there really was a flood as described in the Bible I leave to others to make up their minds, however, it is possible to try to put oneself into the story and imagine the emotions experienced by Noah and the rest. For me, that moment when Noah and his family seal themselves into the Ark haunts me; after all, the result of that distancing was that everyone outside of the Ark is left to die.
What did Noah and the survivors feel? Guilt at being unable to save anyone else? Terror at the rising waters? Trust that the course they were being asked to take was the right one? Those are emotions and actions that, if we choose, we can all find time to reflect on and imagine our own responses.
However in time (forty days and forty nights) even that passed and eventually humans re-entered the world with a new set of ideas for how to live together – the Noahide Code.
By my calculation, and if (and I hope that it is no more) my and our period of isolation and distancing lasts forty days and forty nights, then I am over halfway through! But if that is true and I am closer to the end than the beginning (and even if I am not) then perhaps I should be thinking about how I will re-enter the world, and what values will for me define that new world.
So here are some ideas that I have been thinking about for a way in which I hope to re-enter the world.
Firstly, I want to re-enter the world with a deepened capacity to trust: to trust institutions, to trust strangers, to trust leaders and to trust myself that we are all acting in the best interests of everyone. Secondly, I want to re-enter the world with an ability to show compassion and empathy to all; what is unique about this time is that we are all experiencing the same shock differently. The crisis is touching all of us; some of us are worried about our financial security, some for our health; some of us will have lost people who were close to us, others will have tried to shelter people from the cruel realities of the outbreak. We will all have felt fear or loss and so I need to find a way to be compassionate and empathetic of the experiences of others.
Thirdly, during this time I have found my physical world and the environment in which I move, to contract. At times this has been a challenge for me, but it is one that I feel I have now grown used to; so when I return to the world, I want to take with me an awareness of living with less. Perhaps I don’t need all those things that I used to take for granted; those coffees, those spur of the moment purchases, the need to fill my time with activity. Perhaps I can live with less.
Leading on from that, perhaps fourthly I should live with less. To borrow an expression that I was always fond of but have only begun to understand in any meaningful way, perhaps through living with less I can become more attuned to “the outcry of mute things”. This was a concept developed by the theologian and philosopher Hans Jonas whose central premise was that we should act so that the effects of our actions do not destroy the future potential of life on earth. Perhaps I need to become more attuned to the suffering of that which does not have a voice? And that that attentiveness should extend to the natural world.
And so, fifthly, I need to develop a sense of solidarity with all. For me, as I suspect for others too, this crisis has revealed that the society that I am part of is only as strong as its weakest link. I do not like that expression because it implies that some roles in society are inherently weak; as we have found we are all dependent on one another and in the most unexpected ways when crisis strikes.
Equally, and sixthly, I want to re-enter the world with an appreciation of how lucky and privileged I am. There are too many privileges to list here, but simply the fact that I can sit and write is a mark of how fortunate I am. I must not forget that, I must not squander that.
Finally, part of what makes me feel lucky is the fact that I am surrounded by wonderful people. Indeed, this crisis has led me to meet more! Colleagues who I have worked with for years but whose new-found creativity and passion I admire; neighbours who I have nodded friendly greetings to for years but who are now important people in my day to day routine and that of my family. I want to maintain the spirit of friendship with friends new and old when I re-enter the world.
Perhaps then the rainbow is the appropriate symbol for this time, but if it is, what are the seven principles, the seven laws which we each of us commit to as we re-enter the world to ensure that our new world is a world that is safe for all? Perhaps you like my principles, perhaps you hate them! Whatever, I would love to hear your thoughts on how you intend to re-enter the world.
Stay safe and take care.