Friday, September 16, 2022


Unexpected guests have arrived on the island. They are exhausted and hungry and confused.  They were prepared for Boston.  They landed on an island in the ocean.  The headlines are full of the  scandalous way in which they have been mistreated, manipulated and lied to.

Without a lot of information except for the humanitarian need confronting the island,  within a few hours, these unanticipated guests were Covid tested, fed and sheltered by a community that simply wouldn’t know any other way to respond, except to extend compassion and hospitality.

Ministers and rabbis of the various faith communities on the island came together for a swiftly called meeting on Zoom and within an hour and a half  were organized to meet the need - - food, clothing, shelter, appropriate interactions with the media - and a commitment to rise above the political implications of the situation.

 In the course of the conversation about how to “message” the island response from the perspective of the faith communities, one of the rabbis, zooming in from her vacation in Nova Scotia, reminded all of us that our various faith traditions are grounded in the biblical admonition to welcome the stranger - - to offer kindness and hospitality to the alien with in our gates.  It is as simple and complex as that - to respond in a compassionate and humane way to the most vulnerable among us - - the stranger.

In the early stages of the conversation, it was very apparent that there was much that we did not know.  At frequent intervals in the joint conversation, although much information was shared, the response in the moment was “we just don’t know enough yet.”

As I listened throughout the hour and a half long conversation, impressed by how much collective knowledge and compassion were in play, I could not help but recall again the “Three Tenets” from the Zen Buddhist tradition: 

I vow to practice not-knowing, by giving up fixed ideas about myself and others, and the universe.  

I vow to practice bearing witness to the joys and sufferings of the world, clearly seeing what is, without attachment or judgement.  

I vow to practice taking action that proceeds from not-knowing and bearing witness, welcoming all hungry spirits into my life.

This morning’s headlines are rife with a lot of information that was not available at the time that the flights bearing our guests landed late Wednesday afternoon.  The political nature of these events is becoming clearer.  But none of that mattered when the flights landed.

In a state of not-knowing - -many island “hosts” witnessed the suffering and confusion and pain. Proceeding from a place of “not knowing” and “witnessing” these hosting humans applied action in very practical ways to meet the immediate need - - no questions asked: friendship, food, clothing, shelter, legal assistance, hot showers, laundry facilities…practical compassion.

Jesus said "When you have done it to the least of these, my brothers and sisters, you have done it to me."  He was talking about the simplest acts of clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, giving cold water to the thirsty, the most fundamental acts of human relatedness. 

In time, the larger aspects of justice will be addressed. As the complexity of the situation becomes clearer, other actions will have to take place, informed by the awareness of all that has led up to the arrival of unexpected guests.  But for the moment, a bit of light has entered a great darkness, embodied in human beings who are willing to sit with not-knowing, willing to witness the immediate suffering of strangers, willing to take action that proceeds out of their  not-knowing and their witnessing to bring a higher level of humanity to bear in a very difficult situation.

Vicky Hanjian

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