A Lamentation for Violence (in Two Voices)

October 28, 2018

Spirit of Life and Love,
Possibility of Mercy and Peace,
Impulse towards Compassion,
Yearning for Comfort in times of Fear,
our hearts echo these words
from the poet Warsan Shire:

We lament the very fact of this lamentation.

A lamentation
making of our eyes
a fountain of tears
to weep for the death
of our human family
through needless violence.

We seek deep soul searching
and wide soul healing
in ourselves
throughout the land
and across the earth.

We witness a society
that fosters ever greater violence
among strangers and neighbors
among friends and lovers
among cities and nations,

We cry stop,
knowing it is our hands
that must do this work of peace.

Let it also be the hands
of neighbors and strangers,
Of friends and lovers.
But fervently, we pray,
Let it be our hands.

This congregation’s work this weekend
and in the coming months
is to cultivate the conditions of safety,
knowing we cannot do it just for ourselves,
sowing the seeds of peace not just in our own lives,
but in all the lives of all whom we touch,
and the communities in which we live.

May we use this strange privilege of being alive
 to honor those whose lives have been stolen and their families who miss them so.

We speak the names of the houses of worship where, in the United States, where there have been fatal shootings in the past twenty years, in their order of occurrence. As we do, you are invited to come forward and place a bright gem – like the flame of our chalice, a beacon of hope for so many — in either of these wells of grief, a symbol that though these places have experienced deep violence and though there are real people who have lost their lives to that deep violence, we shall do what we can to make that loss not be in vain, we shall do what we can to keep ourselves and others as safe as possible, we shall do what we can to build a safer, less violent world.

Let us begin.

Wedgewood Baptist Church
Greater Oak Missionary Baptist Church
Our Lady of Peace Catholic Church of Lynbrook
Conception Abbey
Turner Monumental AME Church
Living Church of God

World Changers Church International
West Nickel Mines Amish School
Zion Hope Missionary Baptist of Detroit
Ministry of Jesus Christ Church of Baton Rouge
First Presbyterian Church of Moscow
First Congregational Church of Neosho

New Life Church
First Baptist Church of Maryville
Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church
Reformation Lutheran Church of Wichita
Sikh Temple of Wisconsin
Victory Way Assembly Church of God in Christ

St. Peter’s Episcopal Church of Ellicott City
First United Presbyterian Church of Coudersport
Hiawatha Church of God in Christ
Overland Park Jewish Community Center
Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church
Mosque in Queens

Keystone Fellowship Church
St. Peter’s Missionary Baptist Church
Islamic Center of Quebec City
Burnette Chapel Church of Christ
First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs
St. Alphonsus Church

And just yesterday, Tree of Life Synagogue, our hearts broken into far too many pieces.  For them we light these eleven candles for the eleven people killed.

In the Hebrew Scriptures, the lamentations hold a particular structure, and somehow, despite the sorrow they convey, all the heartbreak they express, they end in praise of the Divine. This seems unbelievable.

While it is true that sometimes that praise is felt, it is also perhaps more often, aspirational — a declaration that in expressing gratitude, we retain, reinforce, and reignite our humanity.

As we bring this lamentation ritual to a close, let us remember the words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and be inspired by them: “Few are guilty, but all are responsible.”

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