Friday, October 27, 2023

"There are no words..."

I have heard these words of anguish and sorrow so many times over the last week since the Hamas attacks on Israel and then Israel’s corresponding response against Hamas.  There are no words…

In the 10th chapter of Leviticus, we read about the sudden and violent death of two of Aaron’s four sons.  As the story goes, they had transgressed upon their priestly duties in some way and they were consumed by fire.   Aaron witnessed the shocking death of his two sons and the text gives only a few terse words about his response: And Aaron was silent. (Leviticus 10:3).  There were no words.

In the immediacy of the first days of the news from Israel and Gaza profound shock rendered so any of us speechless.  So many factors determine what we say and how we say it.  We struggle to find the correct speech that will communicate deep understanding and compassion without making quick emotionally laden judgements that may cause more damage than good.  We are, indeed, without words.  Jews struggle to comfort one another.  Non-Jews wrestle with how to effectively communicate their caring and concern to their Jewish friends.  Compassion for  innocent  Palestinians caught in the horrifying conflict struggles to find a voice.

But gradually the call to prayer infiltrates our collective awareness.   Rabbis and ministers and imams and Buddhist priests around the earth begin calling their people to prayer.  We begin to find the words.  

So many often wonder what effect prayer has on events and circumstances.  I must confess that I am included in those who wonder and ponder.  It is a mystery beyond my comprehension.  But I do know that prayer has the power to transform me.  When I offer my heart to the Eternal in prayer I find a bit of direction, of comfort and consolation.  I come away from the encounter with the Holy feeling more grounded, more open to guidance about how to proceed.  

Wash.  Rinse.  Repeat.

Prayers abound.  We do find the words.  My emails are full of them.   So I offer a few of the words here.   First from the heart/ mind of Maren Tirabassi and then from the heart/mind of Howard Thurman (slightly adapted in italics for use as a corporate prayer and for gender neutral language for the Divine.)


A Re-Telling of Psalm 23

by Maren Tirabassi

God is the shepherd of Israel and Palestine,

a people who want peace and fear war.

God is a child desperate for water,

and a family terrified for precious hostages.

God is in all souls.  God waits on every path

This week the valley of the shadow of death

is crowded with God's children,

and they have no comfort

but our prayers,

the prayers of the world,

for a table where enemies may sit down

to speak healing words,

receive an anointing of truce,

and shatter the cup of death

before more is poured out 

on those who are innocent.

Goodness and mercy will follow us

even in these days of fear and grieving,

until we build a house of reconciliation

and dwell in it together.

Holy Compassion, Rock Upon Which We Stand, Wisdom That Guides Creation, make us instruments of Peace. Teach us how to order our days so that with sure touch we may say the right word at the right time and in the right way — lest we betray the spirit of peace. Let us not be deceived by our own insecurity and weakness which would make us hurt another as we try desperately to help ourselvesWatcher Who Does Not Slumber or Sleep, keep watch with us, over the days of our lives, so that with abiding enthusiasm we may be in such possession of ourselves that each day we may offer the full, unhampered use of each one of us in all our parts as “ instruments of Peace.” 

Open unto us light for our darkness.
Open unto us-courage for our fear.
Open unto us-hope for our despair.
Open unto us-peace for our turmoil.
Open unto us-joy for our sorrow.
Open unto us-strength for our weakness.
Open unto us-wisdom for our confusion.
Open unto us-forgiveness for our sins.
Open unto us-love for our hates.

Holy Compassion, Rock Upon Which We Stand, open unto us. Amen.

In the beautiful story of  beginnings, Genesis 1:26 contains the concept of b’tzelim elohim: “And God said, ‘Let us make (the) human in our own image.’”  In war the image of God is systematically wounded, dishonored, disfigured and destroyed. We absolutely must find and use our words.


Vicky Hanjian

Friday, October 6, 2023

"What do you think?"

 Since my father was a minister, there were several expectations for an adolescent son. One was that I would be in church every Sunday. Another was that I would attend youth group meetings and events. A third was I would teach a church school class when they couldn’t find a teacher. Also, I would sing in the choir according to my age; children’s choir, youth choir, adult choir. Actually, the latter adult choir was not so much an obligation as something I liked. Partly it was an opportunity to be in the presence of older people who were enjoying themselves, and partly it was simply that I liked to sing.

Sitting in the adult choir loft was different from sitting in a pew. For one thing, I was looking at the back of my father’s head. That made him more of the minister and less my father. Probably that helped him communicate better from the pulpit to yours truly. 

Whatever it was, as I sat there listening one Sunday morning, I heard my father say something that struck me, and I had to say to myself, “that’s the Truth,” with a capital T. I’d never felt that way before, about anything I had read or heard. This was new!

These days I think about how Gandhi’s name for God was Truth, with a capitol T. And I can’t help but believe that in that moment in the choir loft, I was opened to the movement of some Holy Spirit and a calling to the pursuit of that Truth in my own life. As an old man, I now realize how difficult a pursuit it is, given the nature of the ego and our seeming human inability to get below the surface of things.

The phrase Gandhi coined for nonviolence, “Satyagraha,” comes from the Sanskrit “Sat” (Being), “Sat-ya” (Truth or Essence) and “graha” (grasping or holding firmly). So for Gandhi, we are trying to “hold firmly to God’s Truth” (my translation). That’s challenging! Worth a lifetime of trial. Try being truly nonviolent, holding firmly to God’s Truth, in thought, word and deed.

There was another moment in that same church when I saw a demonstration of the truth that impacted me, and I believe it impacted the rest of the congregation as well.

Our church regularly collected gently used clothing as a mission project. My father decided we should bless the collected clothing and have a ritual of dedication. To someone’s embarrassment, he pulled out of the bags torn and dirty clothing that should have been tossed out or used for rags. He simply asked, “should we bless and send these?” Then he proceeded with the ritual and left the torn and dirty clothing on the altar.

The third memorable example of the truth my father gifted me was shortly before his death. He had not been well and it was clear to all of us his days were numbered. Family members thought someone should speak with him about his approaching death, and as a newly minted clergy, their eyes turned to me. Reluctantly, and with some fear and trembling, I agreed.

I went in his room where he lay resting in bed and after a few moments of conversation said, “It seems as if you are at peace with whatever happens. That you are OK should you get better and OK if you don’t.” We sat in silence for a few moments before he said: “It’s not important what you have or what you do, what’s important is who you are. If that’s what you believe, you can die anytime. What do you think?” 

What do I think? I think truth is elusive and the getting and doing clouds our minds and hearts. Attending a recent auction, I was overwhelmed by the stuff for sale. The auction went on for hours. There were so many things in their original packages; never used. I purchased some books; one thing I certainly didn’t need, “but they were cheap!” I shouldn’t have been there in the first place as I had “things to do” at home; like tend the tomatoes and prepare for class. Getting and doing, big time!

For me, the Truth is, we are part of a larger scheme of Being and we have our part to play. There will be plenty of distractions. There will be fits and starts, roadblocks and detours. But hopefully, even in a few last days, we can recognize and Be the essence that we are.

Carl Kline