Reflections on injustice & healing: themes from Jeremiah

Balm in Gilead — Grace Schulman
“Is there no balm in Gilead?”
So cries dour Jeremiah in granite tones.
“There is a balm in Gilead,”
replies a Negro spiritual. The baritone  

who chants it, leaning forward on the platform,
looks up, not knowing his voice is a rainstorm
that rinses air to reveal earth’s surprises.
Today, the summer gone, four monarch butterflies,  

their breed’s survivors, sucked a flower’s last blooms,
opened their wings, orange-and-black stained glass,
and printed on the sky in zigzag lines,
watch bright things rise:

winter moons, the white undersides
of a … condor, once thought doomed,
now flapping wide like the first bird
from ashes.


Questions to consider, based on text from Jeremiah:

  • What are some of the injustices you notice in the world right now?
  • What voices resist or critique those injustices? Who are the prophets of this age?
  • What actions or words are helping reinforce the injustices you have noticed?
  • Do people from within your community, or groups with whom you identify, speak up or take action about the injustices you are noticing?
  • What are some signs of healing or hope that you see for those injustices … what “balm for Gilead” do you witness?
  • What is a daily action or choice you can make, to become more aware or to affect change, about an injustice that is of particular concern to you?

Injustices Named

Our nation is reeling from shockwaves of violence, intolerance, anger, suspicion, and fear. At this moment it feels like our whole country is a powder keg, about to ignite, fueled by long legacies of racism, xenophobia, heterosexism, religious intolerance. — Anathea Portier-Young

… we must understand the lament’s power. Too often as Christians, we edit our prayers to God. We speak frankly to friends, advisors, and paid professionals, but we don’t speak frankly to God. Jeremiah holds nothing back from God and models a prayer life of both praise and lament. … These verses continue to resonate with both Christians and Jews as they confront the troubles of today’s world. What would Jeremiah say if he heard that more soldiers died from their own hand than in combat last year in Afghanistan? What should we say? How would Jeremiah react if he heard that 22 veterans a day commit suicide? Jeremiah 8:18-9:1 still tries to shake us from our complacency. — Garrett Galvin

This fact does not mean that the prophet should cease telling the truth as she sees it from God. But all truth telling is contexted by a careful listening to the pain of those very people…. We modern day would-be prophets would do well to listen carefully to the cries of our people. We may demand from them God’s justice, but in a highly complex and competitive world, the doing of justice may not be so clear-cut. When the people of our flock feel the pressing demands of a capitalist world to work hard and to achieve success; when the women are urged to “have it all,” to achieve great success in business and equal success as spouse and mother, while the men are to “be men” and to be relational and giving, yet powerful and winners, the cries of the people may ring loud in the land. — John Holbert

If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality. — Desmond Tutu

Non-violence doesn’t mean we have to passively accept injustice. We have to fight for our rights. We have to oppose injustice, because not to do so would be a form of violence. Gandhi-ji fervently promoted non-violence, but that didn’t mean he was complacently accepting of the status quo; he resisted, but he did so without doing harm. — Dalai Lama

Hope & Healing

To be contented human beings we need trust and friendship, which tends to develop much better once we realise that all beings have a right to happiness, just as we do. Taking others’ interests into account not only helps them, it also helps us. Warm-heartedness and concern for others are a part of human nature and are at the core of positive human values — Dalai Lama

The painful truth is that we are not the people we envision ourselves to be—not always. We do not live up to the convictions we profess to be the basis for our lives—not always. We may be in tune to the “justice of the Lord” in some areas of our lives, but I guarantee that there are others where we are not, and we are clueless about that fact. Jeremiah calls us to ask not “Where is God?” but “What have I done?”—to pull back the veil of our appearance of godliness so that we can find the way to real healing. — Alan Brehm

We stuffed scary feelings down, and they made us insane. I think it is pretty universal, all this repression leading to violence and fundamentalism and self-loathing and addiction. All I know is that after 10 years of being sober, with huge support to express my pain and anger and shadow, the grief and tears didn’t wash me away. They gave me my life back! They cleansed me, baptized me, hydrated the earth at my feet. They brought me home, to me, to the truth of me. — Anne Lamott

At the same time Jeremiah reminds me that life is not about sitting around waiting for my medicine.  Band aids and half –measures will not bring the cure we need.  Jesus heals me for a reason.  I’m called to love in return with all my heart, soul and mind, to extend love to my neighbor in gratitude … I know of no other way, no other healing balm, that helps me meet the daily challenges. So I listen to the spiritual and will try to sing it every day this week: Sometimes I feel discouraged and think my work’s in vain; but then the Holy Spirit revives my soul again. — Lillian Daniel