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

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