Tuesday, June 5, 2012

A Prayer for Healing

Seattle has recently reached an unfortunate milestone: the city has had more homicides so far this year than in the entirety of 2011.  Last Wednesday, a mentally unstable individual shot and killed four people at a cafe where he had been denied service a day earlier.  Somehow, he then made his way across town, where he shot and killed another woman before stealing her car.

At the time of Wednesday's shootings, I was gathered with clergy of various denominations at a meeting discussing the intersection of faith and social action.  As I returned to the office and learned of the tragedies, I reached out to others in the community to try to respond to the violence, and rekindle peace and hope in the city.

Thanks to a colleague at a local ecumenical council, on Sunday evening we were able to gather with more than 200 citizens, the mayor, and clergy of various stripes: Catholic, Evangelical, Methodist, AME, Episcopal, Jewish, and Muslim.  Each of us in our own way offered prayers for healing and peace, beginning at the Episcopal cathedral and then moving in a candlelight processional to the Catholic cathedral a few miles away.

Here is the meditation I offered; it was but one of several comments delivered that evening.  We pray that our words did not fall on deaf ears, and that healing will come soon.

The Jewish memorial prayer begins with the words “El Malei Rachamim: God, full of compassion.”  This is as much an appellation for the Divine as it is a prayer…when we reach out in our hour of need, our moment of grief, we pray that there may be a compassionate Presence who can guide us, comfort us, and bring us peace. But God alone cannot heal this city.  There is no magical miraculous salve that will rain down from the heavens to assuage our fears, restore calm, reunite us with those who have been so violently torn from our midst. We have heard the numbers: more homicides in the city so far this year than there were during the entire past year.  These are frightening numbers.  But those individuals cut down in the past several months were not mere numbers.  They were people: mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, friends and neighbors.  All had dreams and aspirations; many were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
 The Jewish tradition reminds us that after each day of creation as documented in the Book of Genesis, God reflects on that day’s handiworks and pronounces them “good.”  This is true of every element of creation except for one: human beings.  The rabbis imagined asking God why this was the case.  And, in their account, God responds, “Because I have not yet perfected you; because your calling is to perfect yourselves, and to perfect the world.  All other things are completed; they cannot grow.  But humankind is not complete; you have yet to grow.  Then, I will call you good.” We have yet to grow.  But over time we will learn to do so.  We will come to recognize that violence is not the answer; love is.  We will live out the word of the prophet who dreamed of the future day of peace: “Violence shall no longer be heard in your land; desolation and destruction within your borders.” We pray that the day of which Isaiah spoke will come speedily.  We pray for comfort, for healing, and for peace. Baruch Ata Adonai, m’takein l’vavot sh’vurim, Adon harachamim, Oseh ha-shalom. Praised are You, our Eternal God, Repairer of broken hearts, Master of mercy, Who bestows peace.

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