I cannot even begin to imagine the pain, confusion, intense emotions, and suffering those of Tree of Life * Or L'Simcha Congregation are experiencing today, as well as those of the diverse community of Squirrel Hill in which the synagogue resides.
In my not-knowing, I humbly offer these words, inspired by teachers in my traditions, and yours:
May the god of your forebears, glorified and sanctified be his name among his people,
Make ready a place at his table for those murdered in the midst of prayer, those slain because of another's ignorance, and those who have already survived one impossible tragedy... only to fall victim to another.
Make ready your halls, god of Abraham, we pray,
That their memories will forever be honored and praised, remembered and exalted, adored and treasured.
May the sacred Fires that burn here in this world for their memory be of comfort to their spirits.
Let those Fires be warm remembrances,
Let those Fires be everlasting love,
Let those Fires bring ease to their every need,
And let those Fires be guiding lights to their spirits, that they may always be with us.
So say we all.
As a priest of a church that has many meetings and events at my family's private home, imagining myself, my family, and our congregants in a similar horrific situation like the one in Pittsburgh... is impossible. No imagined tragedy could ever come close to the experience of suffering that comes from living through those life-altering moments. So, instead of bloviating in speculation, I'll offer something concrete:
Assaults on Soft-Targets are Bankrupt of Virtue *hard stop*.
There's no point driven home, or honor gained by going after unarmed people in their most vulnerable and receptive moments. It's cowardice. It's murder. You are no soldier in some war (that doesn't exist). You're a craven murderer. Be better than that.
In this country, especially during this time, we cannot, metaphorically speaking, create sparks when we are standing on a beach of gunpowder.
Many of us are moved to act, and that impelling force we feel to do so can be the impetus for great change... but when the engine of change is fueled by the qualities of divisiveness, hate, ignorance, bloodlust, and anger, the products AND byproducts of that engine will be tainted and poisoned, resulting in things like nationalism, internment camps, genocide, and despotism.
This has all happened before... and gods be good, it will not happen again.
Fuel your change-engine with inclusiveness, virtue, kindness, compassion, and understanding... the results will truly heal one another, changing the world like no war, or forced set of rules could.
It is a greater challenge to temper one's emotions and spirits, entering into our inner spaces where we're up to our necks in the unknown, our inner-vulnerability alarms screaming. When everything inside us tells us that sitting with another person and, without our own agenda, engaging them in a dialogue with the express purposes of peace, fair dealings, and understanding... when all that sounds like the most terrifying thing we've ever heard, sounding impossible to accomplish... that's the EXACT time to practice Courage and step forward to engage in those gentle practices.
It's saddening to me that those who harm others aren't scared to lose their "identity" when killing and harming, but hide fearfully behind vitriol, spite and violence when asked to fearlessly advocate for peace and understanding... because they're afraid that they won't be who they are without all fear, doubt, and negativity. They have become all they fear others to be... and a part of them knows that, The part of them that knows is the same part that creates the "self" they think they are... its the part that will do whatever it takes to protect itself, including murder one another.
Awaken and evolve, people of the United States of America... evolve for all our sakes. To paraphrase the motto of one of the oldest secondary schools in the country: we must be worthy of our heritage.
Gods be good, when someone comes upon a place where people gather in prayer and commune with all that they hold as sacred, in those times, may that someone be virtuously inspired to be a good guest, entering into those places with a vulnerability of spirit, with an open heart, and with receptive hands.
May all hosts be willing to illuminate minds and hearts trapped in darkness, feed spirits and bodies hungering for a more authentic feeling of satisfaction, and commit to building bigger, more welcoming tables to gather more people under a "canopy of peace" (in Hebrew - sukkat shalom. *Thanks for that one, Reb. Zalman, ZT"L., dear teacher... of blessed memory*).
And may it be so that we all know what it means to be guest AND host.
Churches are for fostering togetherness and understanding, so please...
Be Courageous. Keep them that way. Always.
- Rev. Wm. E. Ashton, ADF
- Longmont, Colorado