Prayer for Highland Park by Maren Tirabassi

Prayer for Highland Park, Illinois

God, we pray for Highland Park,

asking your tenderness

with those who mourn family and friends,

suddenly and terribly lost,

your care for all those wounded,

and your gentle peace

with those who may hear fireworks

as automatic rifle fire

all the days of their lives.

For this small local palm sunday

turned into a via dolorosa,

a “sorrowful way,”

independence-day become day-of-fear,

celebration of beautiful America

become mourning

of broken America,

we weep, even for ourselves,

but mostly for this town,

these people, who will remember

a terrible rain on their parade.

amen.

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Where They Would Have Been: Home — A Meditation by Rev Gail Doktor (caveat: all mistakes in this reflection are my own)

Last weekend, my daughter Sarah and son-in-law Nirajan honored the covenant of marriage with the blessings and bindings offered by a Hindu priest. It was their third wedding ceremony: two earlier mid-COVID occasions were officiated by Christian ministers. Over the weekend, we joined together two families and nationalities: one with long roots traceable backward across centuries of Judeo-Christian heritage as early settlers and builders of this nation, and the other recently-minted residents who arrived as Nepali immigrants seeking political asylum and then earned US citizenship. We observed hours of prayer, ritual, and symbolism. We reveled with joy, laughter, tears, spicy Nepali food, drinking, singing, and dancing to Nepali music in an (ironically) American-Irish Hall in Malden, MA. Together our joined families embody the possibility of this democracy: what love and peace can accomplish within the frameworks of liberty.

On the July 4th holiday following the family weekend, we wandered Boston, MA with Doktor and Fitzsimons family members visiting from out-of-town. They had been part of the wedding celebration. The Fitzsimons’ missed their own Independence Day traditions, usually focused in Highland Park, IL, to share Sarah and Nirajan’s marital moment with us.

On July 4th, we watched a magician on the steps of Faneuil Hall, untethering himself from impossible bindings. Held our breath for an athlete balanced high on a pogo stick in Quincy Market. Wandered the waterfront, the harbor. Stood on tiptoe to peek at dancers performing for the crowd, their rhetoric creatively challenging racism among onlookers and bystanders, until we laughed at ourselves and became part of their willing audience. Found public restrooms. Chugged water. Ate Irish pub food.

We walked through the haunting remembrance of the Holocaust memorial with the numbers of millions of prisoners imprinted on glass, hot steam rising under our feet, the taut words of survivors incised onto stones. Remember. Remember what can happen when oppressive regimes make others less than human. Remember when violence is given reign. Remember the lives taken. Men, women, and children. Remember.

In the North End, we heard the glistening notes of a glass harmonica invented by Benjamin Franklin echo in Paul Revere’s mall. Cocked our heads to catch thin, breathy song from tall Asian string instruments played in the Boston Common. Smiled at the guitarist who strummed loud, throbbing guitar licks for passing tourists and resident ducks as Swan Boats floated past in the Garden.

At one point, we walked beneath the flight of a circling helicopter. Stared at the flash of blue police lights racing past. Wondered. Violence here, too? Apparently local officials accompanied dignitaries in preparation for a parade from the State House toward the Charles River’s promise of fireworks and pops music.

Lights, sirens, and circling aircraft faded away. We tried to relax.

Someone set off firecrackers beyond the park. The three boys didn’t hear it, but their father, a vigilant veteran of the blue collar Irish neighborhoods of downtown Chicago, who remembers openly-active white supremacists who were aggressively terrorizing their own native sons, startled. Turned. Wondered again.

Was it happening everywhere? The rain of bullets? The domestic terrorism?

Their dad, our brother-in-law, had earned a scholarship, gained an education, and worked his way through college. He long ago moved his family out and away from urban Chicago. Left the violence that surrounded his childhood environs behind, because he could. (And even in this, we know there’s privilege, because so many people who want to escape violence cannot get away.) And he observes that it’s gotten much worse since the time he was growing up; it’s out of control. It’s become so frequent, so daily, that the public is acclimated to hearing about the violence.

Even now, his family says he walks, everyplace except home, with his fists closed. Clenched. Prepared for a fight that he didn’t pick, but he’ll finish. Instead he chose as his hometown, with his wife, the sanctuary of Highland Park, beneath its oaks, among its storied architecture, its friendly streets, its playing fields, its ‘good schools’ and its cultural richness and diversity. Yesterday his fists clenched again.

By the time we were in Boston Garden, cautionary texts were pouring in from Highland Park. Around us in Boston, everything now seemed threatening, though the shadow of the assault was cast from hundreds of miles away in the midwest. Yet it seemed to reach across centuries, rooted in the revolutionary clashes that marked the East Coast in the 18th century, groaning from older times into our young new century, lamenting the ongoing struggles of our burdened democracy.

In the Boston Garden, beneath the droop of willow, the creak of oak, the whisper of maple, we re-created a Fitzsimons childhood photo of small boys, nephews and cousins, clamoring over bronze ducklings. Now tall young men, they again draped themselves with grins beneath Cubs and Wildcats baseball caps, around those same bronze birds made famous by Robert McCloskey. Their mom stepped further back to catch the whole image.

Amidst all of these Independence Day moments, cell phones interrupted us. Texts and alerts continued to push their way into the hot, want-some-ice-cream, need-a-cold-water tour of Boston. This Fitzsimons clan connected to ours should have been on the streets of Highland Park, their youngest in the band, keeping time, drumming the rhythm of liberty. Mom and dad would have been on the sidelines, their seats staked out, ready to watch the unfolding festivities, starting with the children’s parade, followed by marching sports teams, then the high school band. Mom’s camera phone would be poised to catch her son’s tall, angular shape among the rearguard of the band, keeping the beat. Their elder boys would have captured video, and remembered their own time marching in that familiar route. 

Until the shots rang out. And suddenly the band surged forward, away from the violence. Our nephews, brother-in-law and sister would have been caught among them. Parade participants and bystanders, just behind and around them, falling.

Of those who fell, we know now, several never rose again. Six perished. Other were taken to the hospital and treated for ‘war-time’ injuries: the youngest was eight and the eldest eighty-six.

As civilians fled, first responders rushed toward the danger.

Above them, a misguided 20-something, former Scout, discarded a gun designed for warfare. It had been aimed at innocents. He, too, fled. Was apprehended, but only after he had taken a human toll in payment. We await, even now, some cause. Some motive. As if any mental health diagnosis or angry rationale could justify or make meaning of the lives he took.

Our nephew ought to have been in that parade. His parents and brothers ranged along the curb, keeping watch. Except they were in Boston with us when it happened.

Instead our family, away from home, stood in the landscape of revolution, the revelry of freedom, receiving heart-breaking updates about someone who, at a minimum, violated the constitutional right to bear arms for purposes of defense. The Fitzsimons’ paused to answer frantic check-ins. Sent out their own queries to friends and neighbors, classmates and colleagues, clients and kin, to confirm they were among the living.

They closed their eyes against how close, how near, they’d come to tragedy. We all know, now, that they … that all of us … are only one connection removed frm irreparable loss. Realize they’ll know people among those hurt and killed.

The Highland Park home to which they return today is not the one they left.fTheir chosen hometown started its July 4th holiday with a joyful renewal of public gatherings after two and more years shut down by COVID and national division, and ended those revelries beneath the onslought of an assault weapon. Highland Park is a common community, an everyday neighborhood, now locked down by fear and anger, held hostage by grief and shock. It is trite to say that they are healing, mourning, and praying. It is early to claim they are organizing, investigating, and urging.

The Fitzsimons’ hometown of Highland Park will be added to a list of communities scarred by such unnecessary, unwarranted violence. It will become one more name in a litany of lament and protest.

This is not just the news about someplace else. Someone else. This is personal. As it always should have been.

Yesterday marked our nephews, cousins, brothers, and sisters. It marked us. All over again. Near kin saved by the fateful invitation to attend their cousin’s wedding. Or they would have have been among those running, diving, dodging the violence that erupted on their beloved streets.

All of us, it seems, are one connection away from such hurts and losses. This isn’t someone else’s issue. It is ours as a nation. As families. As individuals.

Yes, on days like July 4th, we honor those matriarchs and patriarchs who claimed our rights and fought for them. Precisely because of those we honor, we do not validate the violence that has been justified in liberty’s name by a criminal, a terrorist, in Highland Park. Or Uvalde. Or Sandy Hook. Or Parkland. Or Columbine. Or Buffalo. Or Charleston. Of any of more than 300 neighborhoods where a mass shooting of more than four people occurred this year. Or thousands of streets where a single, unarmed person was killed with a gun for any reason of any kind.

As we were bid yesterday in the military and Holocaust memorials, we remember. As we were called to do yesterday by the revolutionary musicians playing the anthem of war, by the gravestones of soldiers, preachers, merchants, farmers, slaves, and freed people, by the reciting of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, by the unfurled sails of the naval ship The Constituion, by the pops’ patriotic songs, and the fireworks burning bright in the sky, we remember. We remember.

Yes, our democracy is burdened. It sometimes feels broken. It bends beneath the weight of its people’s needs and differences. Yet the wealth and monuments of our freedom are built upon the bones of diversity, upon the backs of those who were not free when it was raised, and only recognized as human in later eras. Our nation’s independence was gained at the expense of people whose human rights have more recently been confirmed and withdrawn, confirmed and compromised, again and again, and yet have advanced, overall, from the times of our founding til now.

On days like this year’s Independence Day, when a terrorist killed and harmed innocents with a weapon of war in Highland Park, we are reminded that democracy is a process. Why are we surprised that violence happened in a town that everyone thought was safe? We assumed it was someone else’s issue, restricted to certain zipcodes? We thought such violence only occurred in cities? Or specific urban neighborhoods defined by color and poverty? That some people deserve or create violence, while others don’t? That if we are good enough, faithful enough, deserving enough, violence won’t touch us?

Sometimes we operate as if we believe that democracy, whose birth we celebrated yesterday, exists as an absolute, unchallenged state of being. Yet democracy is ever-unfolding, changing, evolving. It starts with knowing our history, our past. Then imagining what must come next.

Highland Park has just been added to the bloody side of our national story. Peaceful democracy doesn’t promise the absence of conflict or disagreement. Instead, it imagines that the ways we contend with each other are civil. Yet our nation’s founders also believed we must continue to struggle together, even now, to redefine freedom over and over. To expand its range and possibility to encompass more people.

Some among us continue to struggle for the right to vote. Or to be acknowledged as fully human, with the right to regulate and rule our own bodies. Or to be recognized, regardless of differences in sexuality or gender, as worthy of the same rights as those who first framed the constitution. Our constitution once excluded, in its implementation if not in its intention, the full human rights of women, children, people of color, indigenous peoples, people who didn’t own property, and many others.

As we were bid so long ago, and only yesterday, we remember. We remember when we did not belong. We remember that, yes, we do belong.

Remembering, we do more than march. We vote. We challenge policy. We write the future story of change that must continue, transformation that must lead to sustainable ‘common defense, general welfare and domestic tranquility’ for all people in this country, without fear that a weapon of war, or the greater weapons of legal, social, and political systems, will be turned upon us. We add Highland Park to the argument.

This isn’t someone else’s issue. It is ours. It’s our freedom. Our liberty.

Like the covenant made between families last weekend, the longer history of our nation is comprised of emerging differences that find common cause, common love, and common striving together. Our nation is comprised of many peoples: some who lived here before the first foreigners landed on these shores, some whose families came here by choice, some whose ancestors were forced to this land. Yet this land, this nation, this democracy has claimed all of us now.

Our liberties, at their best, belong to all of us. Yet our laws and liberties do not protect all of us, or remain available to all of us. Not equally. Not yet.

So we remember. We say the litany of hometown names, and add a new one: Highland Park. The Fitzsimons’ hometown. Our family’s hometown.

We ask why? We wonder what can change, so this doesn’t happen again? And we act.

We mark the holiday. Celebrate the beginning of freedom. Then we remember, that the work of freedom isn’t finished. As a nation, we are a work in progress. We are the children and grand-children and great-grandchildren of a civil dream that is growing to a greater maturity. We are the offspring of a covenant that  reveals the fullness of what American could be, yet has not become. 

We remember. Our lives are holy. And all love, at its best, is holy. Thus our lives, in whatever ways we may live and put them to the service of others and creation, may be and become expressions of love and forms of prayer.

We remember. We add Highland Park to the prayers, the protests, the policy-making. We breathe. We try once more to make a difference. And we return our chosen homes, if we are privileged to have homes, to dream. To dream hopefully and courageously. To love. To love tenderly and boldly. To pray. To pray differently and faithfully. And to strive. To strive creatively and intentionally for change. To reach. To reach in whatever ways we each can for equitable, sustainable, life-affirming transformation to continue.

Late yesterday, after hours walking through the Freedom Trail route of Boston, we hopped the subway out of the city, and found a Mexican food restaurant open despite the holiday. Munched tortilla chips and salsa verde, then ordered a variety of cuisine. Listened to news updates. Sighed. Changed the conversation to more hopeful topics. Comforted ourselves with scoops of ice cream from the Nepali-owned Jay’s Pizza & Ice Cream shop down the street, where we could also order Nepali momoes if were still hungry. We weren’t. So we said good-bye to each other. Wondered what it would be like for the Fitzsimons to return home today, knowing that home has changed so much.

Pray for Highland Park. Pray for our nation. Pray for this world. May our freedom to pray, and to choose love, be used to strive for this: Peace. Salaam. Shalom.

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Reflections on fathers, patriarchs, parents, and men in our lives who shape and change us. For Father’s Day weekend.

This Father’s Day I want to recognize the kind, patient, sensitive, and caring men who serve as father figures and role models in our children’s lives. They are uncles, teachers, caregivers, cooks, drivers, security guards, and coaches. They are there every day in every way. They gently guide our children through their days, offering advice and wisdom – giving our children a model of what and how they can grow up to be … — Maggie Doyne, BlinkNow

It’s the most profound gift and the most daunting challenge. — Matt Bomer

Open your hands if you want to be held. — Rumi

It is not flesh and blood, but the heart which makes us fathers … — Johann Friedrich Von Schiller

I’d say, Buckle up!… It’s going to be a journey where half the time, you don’t know what you’re doing or what to expect, or how you’re going to bear the pressures, or as Blake put it, learn to endure the beams of love.  I would say, it’s one day at a time … It’s Doctorow saying …[it]  is like driving at night with the headlights on where you can only see a little ways in front of you, but you can make the whole journey that way. — Annie Lamott

Songs about fathers and parenthood:

Questions to consider:

  • If your image of God comes from a parent, what does that experience of love offer as your relationship with God? Stern and disciplinarian, intimate and affectionate, constant and close, faraway and not present, instructive and patient, quick and restless … how do you know God as met through your connection to your primary relationships: parents or caregivers in your earliest years?
  • Does calling God “the Father” help you to connect to Holy Love or is it a barrier? If so, why? What language would help connect you to Godself?
  • For whom have you been a role model or mentor, an influencer and changemaker?
  • Who has been a father figure or role model in your life?
The Longing and the Love (excerpt) — Brian Lundin
We long for the perfect protection of a father,
for strong arms that encircle us,
hold us tight to a broad chest, a beating heart.
Arms that toss us into the air,
screaming with laughter and a little fear,
even though we know those arms will always catch us.From the moment we gasp our first breath of air,
we long for the perfect father.
We long for a father who sacrifices,
who lays down his time to play games,
read our favorite book one more time,
or take a long walk and listen.
Who reaches into his pocket and pulls out a dollar for ice cream.
Who reaches deeper to provide a good home, good food, and good gifts.
We long for a father who always protects,
always cheers, and always sacrifices.Some of us are blessed to find
bits and pieces of these longings met in human form,
Like sun through stained glass—a brilliant picture,
illuminated by our Father who satisfies these longings.We thank God for fathers who protect,
who encourage with strong words, and strong convictions,
fathers willing to sacrifice, striving to love.But some of us are grieving.
Grieving the loss of a good father, or the lack of one.
Some never knew their father’s arms,
and some bear scars, on skin and soul,
dealt from a father’s swinging arms.
At some point, all of us are left longing.
Lacking.No human father can perfectly satisfy.
Look up and know your Father in Heaven gave you these longings,
and only He can … fulfill them …We celebrate our fathers on earth, and our Father in heaven.
We give thanks for the longing, and give thanks for the love.
Father’s Day Prayer — Maren Tirabassi
God, I’m praying for fathers –
fathers, up at night with newborns,
fathers, bent under college debt,
fathers who are good with one age of child
and haven’t a clue with another.
I’m praying for fathers balancing self
and home and work and parenting,
especially when no one seems to notice.
I’m praying for fathers of adolescents,
and for those who are adolescents themselves,
as well as many who prop up their elbows w
hen their hands slip on the gift of accountability.
I’m praying for grandfathers and transfathers.
godfathers and grieving fathers,
foster fathers and adopting fathers,
solo fathers and step-fathers,
fathers-in-law and fathers-in-neighbor,
more grandfathers – tiptoeing around divorce,
and also teachers, pastors, coaches, counselors
who mix a tiny bit of what they know
from fathering into relationships
with dozens of children, and l
earn the rhythm to step back.
I’m praying for those living
with their mistakes as fathers—
small thoughtlessnesses that call for self-forgiveness,
or deep damage needing repentance, transformation.
I’m praying for those who want to be fathers,
and those who have wanted, but it never happened.
I’m praying for those who miss
their fathers because of death or distance,
deep difference or disappearance,
and I’m praying those who miss their children
because of death or distance,
deep difference or disappearance.
Be a parent to them, O God,
on this day and all the days of the year.
I am praying for those who have been
so violated by men in relationship to them,
that the very name “father” is a wound.
Heal them with time and anger,
memory, love and support.
As we approach this civic day
with its tangle of knotted emotions,
draw out for each of us from
your fathoms of tenderness, care, and strength,
for our most intimate needs – named here,
barely whispered to ourselves, or
still hidden in the cave-rooms of our souls.
Amen.

For a New Father (excerpt)— John O’Donohue
As the shimmer of dawn transforms the night
Into a blush of color futured with delight,
The eyes of your … child awaken in you
A brightness that surprises your life …
… You feel the full force of a father’s desire
To protect and shelter.
… May your heart rest in the grace of the gift
And you sense how you have been called
Inside the dream of this new destiny.
May you be gentle and loving, clear and sure.
May you trust in the unseen providence
That has chosen you all to be a family.
May you stand sure on your ground
And know that every grace you need
Will unfold before you
Like all the mornings of your life.

Extraordinariness of Daily Acts: Just Showing Up
 
My father didn’t tell me how to live. He lived and let me watch him do it. — Clarence Budington Kelland
 
Dads are most ordinary men turned by love into heroes, adventurers, story-tellers … and singers of song. — Pam Brown
 
A good father is one of the most unsung, unpraised, unnoticed, and yet one of the most valuable assets in our society. — Billy Graham
 
I believe that what we become depends on what our fathers teach us at odd moments, when they aren’t trying to teach us. We are formed by the little scraps of wisdom. — Umberto Eco
 
When you’re young, you think your dad is Superman. Then you grow up, and you realize he’s just a regular guy who wears a cape. — Dave Attell
 
Sometimes the poorest man leaves his children the richest inheritance. — Ruth Renkel

The biggest lesson for my kids is that they know they are the most important things I have. No matter what is going on in my life, your kids are forever. — Lin Manuel Miranda

I talk and talk and talk, and I haven’t taught people in 50 years what my father taught by example in one week. — Maria Cuomo Cole

I remember a very important lesson that my father gave me when I was twelve or thirteen. He said, ‘You know, today I welded a perfect seam and I signed my name to it.’ And I said, ‘But, Daddy, no one’s going to see it!’ And he said, ‘Yeah, but I know it’s there.’  — Toni Morrison

A good father is one of the most unsung, unpraised, unnoticed, and yet one of the most valuable assets in our society. — Billy Graham

He adopted a role called being a father so that his child would have something mythical and infinitely important: a protector. — Tom Wolfe

On Loving Our Children

Baby, I paint the sky blue
My greatest creation was you.
— Jay-Z
In my career, there’s many things I’ve won and many things I’ve achieved, but for me, my greatest achievement is my children and my family. — David Beckham

When my father didn’t have my hand, he had my back. — Linda Poindexter

Prayer Maya Angelou

Father, Mother, God,
Thank you for your presence during the hard and mean days.
For then we have you to lean upon.
Thank you for your presence during the bright and sunny days,
for then we can share that which we have with those who have less.
And thank you for your presence during the Holy Days, for then we are able
to celebrate you and our families and our friends.
For those who have no voice, we ask you to speak.
For those who feel unworthy, we ask you to pour your love out in waterfalls of tenderness.
For those who live in pain, we ask you to bathe them in the river of your healing.
For those who are lonely, we ask you to keep them company.
For those who are depressed, we ask you to shower upon them the light of hope.
Dear Creator, You, the borderless sea of substance, we ask you to give to all the world that which we need most—Peace.

All Kinds of Fathers: Honoring the Men in Our Lives

There are many different types of Dads. Father figures come in all shapes and sizes, and being a parent can sometimes lie with a less-traditional role-model. — MensLineAustralia

It is not flesh and blood, but the heart which makes us fathers and sons. — Johann Friedrich Von Schiller

But a role model in the flesh provides more than inspiration; his or her very existence is confirmation of possibilities one may have every reason to doubt, saying, yes, someone like me can do this. — Sonia Sotomayor

You can honor the day by acknowledging someone who made a difference in your life … — James Van Praagh

Role models set goals for you and try to make you as good as they are. Role models are important. — Kasey Zacharias 

My role model didn’t tell me, he showed me. — Unattributed

By being a living role model of what you want to receive from others, you create more of what you want in your life. — Eric Allenbaugh

Be the flame of fate, that torch of truth to guide our young people toward a better future for themselves and for this country. — Michelle Obama 

We tend to become like those we admire. — Thomas Monson

Children need role models rather than critics. — Joseph Joubert

A role model can teach you to love and respect yourself. — Tionne Watkins

To change bad habits we must study the habits of successful role models. — Jack Canfield 

As a leader, it’s a major responsibility on your shoulders to practice the behavior you want others to follow. — Himanshu Bhatia

God / Holy Love as Parent & Creator

There is something gratuitous about creation, an unnecessary abundance of beauty, and through its blossoms and pleasures we can revel in the sheer largesse of the Father. ― Michael Reeves

[About Prodigal Son parable] … he’s a parent who loves both his children more than anyone can measure. And that’s when counting breaks down. When you love so much there is no scale adequate to calculate your devotion. The elder son, he counts … But the … father – doesn’t. Can’t. Love like this, you see, cannot be measured, tracked, or managed. … God’s immeasurable love. Period. — David Lose

Right from the moment of our birth, we are under the care and kindness of our parents, and then later on in our life when we are oppressed by sickness and become old, we are again dependent on the kindness of others. Since at the beginning and end of our lives we are so dependent on other’s kindness, how can it be in the middle that we would neglect kindness towards others? — Dalai Lama

The child asks of the Father whom he knows. Thus, the essence of Christian prayer is not general adoration, but definite, concrete petition. The right way to approach God is to stretch out our hands and ask of One who we know has the heart of a Father. ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer

God attaches no strings to His love. None. His love for us does not depend on our loveliness. It goes one way. As far as our sin may extend, the grace of our Father extends further. ― Tullian Tchividjian

Most of us were taught that God would love us if and when we change. In fact, God loves you so that you can change. What empowers change, what makes you desirous of change is the experience of love. It is that inherent experience of love that becomes the engine of change. ― Richard Rohr

I am always struck when I reread the parable of the merciful Father. … The Father, with patience, love, hope and mercy, had never for a second stopped thinking about [his wayward son], and as soon as he sees him still far off, he runs out to meet him and embraces him with tenderness, the tenderness of God, without a word of reproach. … God is always waiting for us, He never grows tired. Jesus shows us this merciful patience of God so that we can regain confidence and hope — always!— Pope Francis

Committing myself to the task of becoming fully human is saving my life now… to become fully human is something extra, a conscious choice that not everyone makes. Based on my limited wisdom and experience, there is more than one way to do this. If I were a Buddhist, I might do it by taking the bodhisattva vow, and if I were a Jew, I might do it by following Torah. Because I am a Christian, I do it by imitating Christ, although i will be the first to admit that I want to stop about a day short of following him all the way. In Luke’s gospel, there comes a point when he turns around and says to the large crowd of those trailing after him, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple” (14:26). Make of that what you will, but I think it was his way of telling them to go home. He did not need people to go to Jerusalem to die with him. He needed people to go back where they came from and live the kinds of lives that he had risked his own life to show them: lives of resisting the powers of death, of standing up for the little and the least, of turning cheeks and washing feet, of praying for enemies and loving the unlovable. ― Barbara Brown Taylor

About the Prodigal Father (excerpt) —Nadia Bolz-Weber (full article: https://www.patheos.com/blogs/nadiabolzweber/2016/03/junk-food-djs-and-brothers-a-sermon-on-how-all-that-is-the-fathers-is-ours/)

… So Jesus told them this parable of 2 sons.
      The first son took his inheritance and left town and squandered everything he’d been given. Like a child who if given the freedom to choose for themselves what they eat, they gleefully gorge themselves on Fruit Loops and Snickers for breakfast and Mountain Dew and Funions for lunch and a dinner of only double stuff Oreos and by the next night they are begging for broccoli.   The younger son had been belligerently independent and self-focused – so sure that if he got everything he wanted that he would be happy but instead he was miserable.
      And so returning home with his head hung low he glances up and sees the Father running to him – before the younger son could even get his totally rehearsed speech out of his mouth the father throws his arms around him and covers him in love. What was lost is found, what was dead is alive says the Father. None of which are moral categories.
     These things call for not condemnation, but a party! And so the father hires a DJ and an amazing caterer and there is dancing and song and drink and joy.
     The younger son may have squandered his freedom in self-indulgent excess. But the older son was just as wasteful.
      The older son squandered his freedom by not thinking he had any. He didn’t believe that all that was the Father’s was his. He squandered the gifts of the Father by living a life of mirthless duty. And coming home from the field he hears the party underway and resents such a lavish show of love thinking it a limited resource. He was being a complete ass and yet again, the Father comes to him reminding him of the great love he has for his child.
      The father sacrifices his dignity twice by running into the street to embrace his children – not as a reward for the children being good but because that is simply the Father’s nature. We are children of a God who does things like that. So in response to the incredulous religious people of his day who were trying desperately to uphold their reward and punishment program Jesus told them a parable about a seemingly bad son and a seemingly good son and how not one thing about their behavior had any effect whatsoever on the heart of their father. All the love that the father had was theirs no matter what. Everything the father had was theirs. So the tragic thing about this story isn’t that one was selfish and one was resentful, the tragic thing is that neither of them trusted the love of the Father. And when that love is not trusted as being sufficient – we replace it with a punishment and reward system.
     …. If you have been told that God is some kind of punishing, capricious, angry bastard with a killer surveillance system who is basically always disappointed with you for being a human being then you have been lied to. The church has failed you and I am so sorry.   
      So if you hear nothing else hear this: that angry punishing God is not the God I know. And it is not the God revealed to us in the person of Jesus Christ. This Jesus who ate with sinners and tax collectors and pissed of the religious authorities (because he was so clearly free from their control) and who loved and healed and forgave people indiscriminately – well this Jesus was God’s way of telling us who God is.
       So when I reject my identity as beloved child of God and turn to my own plans of self-satisfaction, or I despair that I haven’t managed to be a good enough person, I again see our divine Parent running toward me uninterested in what I’ve done or not done, who covers me in divine love and I melt into something new like having again been moved from death to life and I reconcile aspects of myself and I reconcile to others around me.
      But I’m human, so inevitably some anxiety or resentment sets me off and I start the whole cycle over again. And that’s ok. Because we have endless opportunities to lift our heads and see how the Divine Parent is running toward us – calling us home. Reminding us of God’s love for us and freeing us to be agents of reconciliation…

God Is for Us — Richard Rohr (full article: https://cac.org/daily-meditations/god-is-for-us-2016-09-30/)

Love is just like prayer; it is not so much an action that we do, but a dialogue that already flows through us. We don’t decide to “be loving”; rather, to love is to allow our deepest and truest nature to show itself. The “Father” doesn’t decide to love the “Son.” Fatherhood is the flow from Father to Son, one hundred percent. The Son does not choose now and then to release some love to the Father, or to the Spirit. Love is the full modus operandi between all three of them! (Remember these classic names are just placeholders. You can replace them with any form of endearment that works for you, but make sure something works!)
     … Love is not something you do; love is Someone you are. It is your True Self … Love is where you came from and love is where you’re going. It’s not something you can attain. … It is the living presence of God within you, often called the Holy Spirit, or what some theologians name uncreated grace.
    You can’t manufacture this by any right conduct. You can’t make God love you one ounce more than God already loves you right now.
     You cannot make God love you any less, either—not an ounce less. You could do the most terrible thing and God wouldn’t love you any less. (You would probably love yourself much less, however.)
     You cannot change the Divine mind about you! The flow is constant and total toward your life. God is for you!
      You can’t diminish God’s love for you. What you can do, however, is learn how to believe it, receive it, trust it, allow it, and celebrate it, accepting Trinity’s whirling invitation to join in the cosmic dance.
      Catherine LaCugna [writes] “The very nature of God, therefore, is to seek out the deepest possible communion and friendship with every last creature on this earth.”
      That’s God’s job description. That’s what it’s all about. The only things that can keep you out of this divine dance are fear, doubt, or self-hatred. What would happen in your life—right now—if you accepted being fully accepted?

  • It would be a very safe universe.
  • You would have nothing to be afraid of.

God is for you.

God is leaping toward you!

God is on your side, honestly more than you are on your own.

A Valentine’s Note from JCC: Songs and poems about different kinds of love: for people, for the world, for each other (hopeful, sad, reflective, rowdy)

SONGS about LOVE:

Blessing for the Brokenhearted  — Jan Richardson
There is no remedy for love but to love more. – Henry David Thoreau

Let us agree
for now
that we will not say
the breaking
makes us stronger
or that it is better
to have this pain
than to have done
without this love.

Let us promise
we will not
tell ourselves
time will heal
the wound,
when every day
our waking
opens it anew.

Perhaps for now
it can be enough
to simply marvel
at the mystery
of how a heart
so broken
can go on beating,
as if it were made
for precisely this—

as if it knows
the only cure for love
is more of it,

as if it sees
the heart’s sole remedy
for breaking
is to love still,

as if it trusts
that its own
persistent pulse
is the rhythm
of a blessing
we cannot
begin to fathom
but will save us
nonetheless.From The Cure for Sorrow: A Book of Blessings for Times of Grief
© Jan Richardson (Wanton Gospeller Press, 2016). janrichardson.com


Beatitudes for Those Who Love
This prayer-poem is by Rev. Maren Tirabassi.

For Valentine’s Eve, Luke’s Beatitudes

Blessed are you who are poor
with no pink greeting cards or chocolate,
because you love someone with dementia –
for God remembers enough for both of you.

Blessed are you who are hungry for a love
forbidden by family or culture,
by law or religion,
by damage sustained in heart or spirit,
or by anyone who tears your family apart at a border–
because God promises you the taste of kisses.

Blessed are you who are shunned or bullied
in person and online for your body or your abilities,
for you will have a day  
when you will see yourself in a mirror
and laugh with joy at how God made you beautiful.

Blessed are you when someone
assumes the fact that you didn’t marry
means you don’t know about love,
or when they call a child you cherish –
“just a foster kid,”
or bar the way of the therapy dog
who holds your heart together,
because your wounds do not fit
their definitions,
or turn you away in tears
from an ex-spouse’s visiting hours.

Re-joy in that day, for you understand
far more than most ever will.

But woe to you who hoard a loving family,
rather than sharing it with the lonely,
for you are consoled now.

Woe to you who expect life
to be all honeymoon,
for you won’t be resilient to disappointment.

Woe to you who laugh at anyone
who is unloved,
or whose love is dismissed –
for you will never be able to take it back
when the tears in your life teach you wisdom.

Woe to you when all congratulate
your penmanship or tech savvy in life,
but you forget the teacher
who once told you to make
a Valentine, not just for those like you,
but for everyone in class,

no, not the teacher in second grade –
the one two thousand years ago.

+++

Rev. Maren C. Tirabassi

POEM  — Maya Angelou

We, unaccustomed to courage
exiles from delight
live coiled in shells of loneliness
until love leaves its high holy temple
and comes into our sight
to liberate us into life.
Love arrives
and in its train come ecstasies
old memories of pleasure
ancient histories of pain.
Yet if we are bold,
love strikes away the chains of fear
from our souls.
We are weaned from our timidity
In the flush of love’s light
we dare be brave
And suddenly we see
that love costs all we are
and will ever be.
Yet it is only love
which sets us free.

The Dance— Wendell Berry

I would have each couple turn,
join and unjoin, be lost
in the greater turning
of other couples, woven
in the circle of a dance,
the song of long time flowing

over them, so they may return,
turn again in to themselves
out of desire greater than their own,
belonging to all, to each,
to the dance, and to the song
that moves them through the night.

What is fidelity? To what
does it hold? The point
of departure, or the turning road
that is departure and absence
and the way home? What we are
and what we were once

are far estranged. For those
who would not change, time
is infidelity. But we are married
until death, and are betrothed
to change. By silence, so,
I learn my song. I earn

my sunny fields by absence, once
and to come. And I love you
as I love the dance that brings you
out of the multitude
in which you come and go.
Love changes, and in change is true.

Acknowledging the challenges of these times: responding to loss & trauma

Your hearts are troubled,
and it is no sacrilege to let them be so …
— Maren Tirabassi

I thought I could describe a state; make a map of sorrow.
Sorrow, however, turns out to be not a state but a process.
― C.S. Lewis

Your name is upon my tongue
your image is in my sight
your memory is in my heart
where can I send these words that I write ?
— Rumi

Naming Change and Loss: Recently, our community has experienced deep challenges, traumas and losses. These are events that occur beyond the pandemic’s complexities, or are exacerbated because of them. These range from life-limiting diagnoses and deaths to accidents and mental health crises. They may also include other life-altering changes, such as major shifts in relationship status, safety and wellbeing, shelter/housing, vocation/livelihood, and/or economic viability.

Some of these circumstances are reversible. Some are permanent and irrevocable. And heartbreaking.

We have been working on hope and resilience for months now. Coping. Managing. Not just surviving, but thriving at times. Reinventing ourselves. Being creative. Optimistic. Yes, and we’re good at it. We keep rising up and responding.

Today … let us, just for a moment, bear witness to the great sorrows that have also shaken us in the past several weeks, or in the last 24 hours. This message is to acknowledge wherever you may find yourself in this reality, in this time. Below are a few offerings. They presume to make things right or better. They don’t pretend to fix or explain anything. They simply articulate something about where we find ourselves. Just for now, let us be present to the truth and pain of these times, as well as the energetic ‘recovery and reopening and renewal’ strategies we implement.

Let us say here, too, that no words by any person, even those who have also known great suffering, are equal to all the realities that are happening among us. Accept whatever grace or support you may find in these words, put down what isn’t helpful or relevant to your situation. Know these are offered with love, but what we truly mean to offer is our presence in your life.  — Rev Gail Pomeroy Doktor

Songs:
Seasons of Love from the musical RENT
I Will Remember You by Sarah McLachlan
Holes in the Night Sky by the Smith Fraser Duo
Let It Be by The Beatles
Candle in the Wind by Elton John
What a Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong
Stars by Grace Potter and the Nocturnals
Like a Bridge Over Troubled Water by Simon & Garfunkel
Holes in the Floor of Heaven by Steve Wariner
Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? performed by Carole King & James Taylor

Blessing for the Brokenhearted (excerpt) — Jan Richardson
Let us agree for now
that we will not say
the breaking
makes us stronger
or that it is better
to have this pain
than to have done
without this love.
Let us promise
we will not
tell ourselves
time will heal
the wound,
when every day
our waking
opens it anew.
Perhaps for now
it can be enough
to simply marvel
at the mystery
of how a heart
so broken
can go on beating,
as if it were made
for precisely this—
as if it knows
the only cure for love
is more of it,
as if it sees
the heart’s sole remedy
for breaking
is to love still …

For Grief (excerpt)— John O’Donohue 

When you lose
someone you love,
Your life becomes strange,
The ground beneath you
gets fragile,
Your thoughts
make your eyes unsure
… words have no confidence.
Your heart has
grown heavy with loss;
And though this loss
has wounded others too,
No one knows what
has been taken from you
When the silence
of absence deepens.

… There are days
when you wake up happy;
Again inside the fullness of life,
Until the moment breaks
And you are thrown back
Onto the black tide of loss.

Days when you have
your heart back,
You are able to function well
Until in the middle
of work or encounter,
Suddenly with no warning,
You are ambushed by grief.

It becomes hard to trust yourself.
All you can depend on now is that
Sorrow will remain
faithful to itself.
More than you,
it knows its way
And will find the right time
To pull and pull the rope of grief
Until that coiled hill of tears
Has reduced to its last drop.

Gradually, you will learn acquaintance
With the invisible form
of your departed;
And, when the work
of grief is done,
The wound of loss will heal
And you will have learned
To wean your eyes
From that gap in the air
And be able to enter the hearth
In your soul
where your loved one
Has awaited your return
All the time.

Musings on Grief, Loss & Sudden Change

This business of having been issued a body is deeply confusing… Bodies are so messy and disappointing. Every time I see the bumper sticker that says “We think we’re humans having spiritual experiences, but we’re really spirits having human experiences,” I (a) think it’s true and (b) want to ram the car. — Anne Lamott

The Abyss of Grief (full essay here): Suddenly, the sacred fire I have been chasing all my life engulfed me. I was plunged into the abyss … So shattered I could not see my own hand in front of my face … Immolated, I found myself resting in fire. Drowning, I surrendered, and discovered I could breathe under water. … This was the sacred emptiness … And I hated it. I didn’t want vastness of being. I wanted my baby back. But I discovered that there was nowhere to hide when radical sorrow unraveled the fabric of my life. I could rage against the terrible unknown—and I did, for I am human and have this vulnerable body, passionate heart, and complicated mind—or I could turn toward the cup, bow to the Cupbearer, and say, “Yes.” I didn’t do it right away, nor was I able to sustain it when I did manage a breath of surrender. But gradually I learned to soften into the pain and yield to my suffering … I became acutely aware of my connectedness … everywhere … who had lost  … who were, at this very moment, hearing the impossible news … Grief strips us. According to the mystics, this is good news. … Few among us would ever opt for the narrow gate of grief, even if it were guaranteed to lead us to God. But if our most profound losses—the death of a loved one, the ending of a marriage or a career, catastrophic disease or alienation from community—bring us to our knees before that threshold, we might as well enter … — Mirabai Starr for the Center for Action and Contemplation

Resources

  • Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy. This is a book available through the library or White Birch Books (place an order); it’s also a community-building resource through their website. Resources for grief due to death, domestic violence/trauma/abuse and other challenges.
  • Resources from the Forgiveness Project: some resources for the process and journey of forgiveness – forgiveness toolkit.
  • Guided Meditation for encountering grief: Joan Halifax

DON’T HESITATE — Mary Oliver

If you suddenly and
Unexpectedly feel joy,
Don’t hesitate.
Give in to it.
There are plenty
Of lives and whole towns
Destroyed or about to be.
We are not wise,
And not very often kind.
And much can never be redeemed.
Still, life has some possibility left.
Perhaps this is its way
Of fighting back, that sometimes
Something happens
Better than all the riches
Or power in the world.
It could be anything,
But very likely
You notice it in the instant
When love begins.
Anyway, that’s often the case.
Anyway, whatever it is,
Don’t be afraid
Of its plenty.
Joy is not made
To be a crumb.

ANTIDOTES to FEAR of DEATH
— Rebecca Elson

Sometimes as an antidote
To fear of death,
I eat the stars.

Those nights, lying on my back,
I suck them from the quenching dark
Til they are all, all inside me,
Pepper hot and sharp.

Sometimes, instead, I stir myself
Into a universe still young,
Still warm as blood:

No outer space, just space,
The light of all the not yet stars
Drifting like a bright mist,
And all of us, and everything
Already there
But unconstrained by form.

And sometime it’s enough
To lie down here on earth
Beside our long ancestral bones:
To walk across the cobble fields
Of our discarded skulls,
Each like a treasure, like a chrysalis,
Thinking: whatever left these husks
Flew off on bright wings.

Kindness (excerpt)
— Naomi Shihab Nye

Before you know
what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted
and carefully saved …
… You must see how
this could be you,
… someone who journeyed
through the night with plans
and the simple breath
that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness
as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow
as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness
that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day
to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

The Peace of Wild Things
— Wendell Berry

When despair for the world
Grows in me
And I wake in the night
At the least sound
In fear of what my life
And my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down
Where the wood drake
Rests in his beauty on the water,
And the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
Who do not tax their lives
With forethought of grief.
I come into the presence
Of still water.
And I feel above me
The day-blind stars
Waiting with their light.
For a time
I rest in the grace
Of the world,
And am free.

Excerpt from writings by Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Contrary to the general assumption, the first days of grief are not the worst. The immediate reaction is usually shock and numbing disbelief. One has undergone an amputation. After shock comes acute early grief which is a kind of “condensed presence” — almost a form of possession. One still feels the lost limb down to the nerve endings. It is as if the intensity of grief fused the distance between you and the dead. Or perhaps, in reality, part of one dies. Like Orpheus, one tries to follow the dead on the beginning of their journey. But one cannot, like Orpheus, go all the way, and after a long journey one comes back. If one is lucky, one is reborn. Some people die and are reborn many times in their lives. For others the ground is too barren and the time too short for rebirth. Part of the process is the growth of a new relationship with the dead, that “véritable ami mort” Saint-Exupéry speaks of. Like all gestation, it is a slow dark wordless process. While it is taking place one is painfully vulnerable. One must guard and protect the new life growing within– like a child.

One must grieve, and one must go through periods of numbness that are harder to bear than grief. One must refuse the easy escapes offered by habit and human tradition. The first and most common offerings of family and friends are always distractions (“Take her out”–“Get her away” –“Change the scene”–“Bring in people to cheer her up”–“Don’t let her sit and mourn” [when it is mourning one needs]). On the other hand, there is the temptation to self-pity or glorification of grief. “I will instruct my sorrows to be proud,”  Constance cries in a magnificent speech in Shakespeare’s King John.  Despite her words, there is not aristocracy of grief. Grief is a great leveler. There is no highroad out.

Courage is a first step, but simply to bear the blow bravely is not enough. Stoicism is courageous, but it is only a halfway house on the long road. It is a shield, permissible for a short time only. In the end, one has to discard shields and remain open and vulnerable. Otherwise, scar tissue will seal off the wound and no growth will follow. To grow, to be reborn, one must remain vulnerable– open to love but also hideously open to the possibility of more suffering.

More Musings

Most of us do as well as possible, and some of it works okay, and we try to release that which doesn’t and which is never going to. … Making so much of it work is the grace of it; and not being able to make it work is double grace. Grace squared. — Anne Lamott

Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it. We anticipate (we know) that someone close to us could die, but we do not look beyond the few days or weeks that immediately follow such an imagined death. We misconstrue the nature of even those few days or weeks. We might expect if the death is sudden to feel shock. We do not expect the shock to be obliterative, dislocating to both body and mind. We might expect that we will be prostrate, inconsolable, crazy with loss. We do not expect to be literally crazy, cool customers who believe that their husband is about to return and need his shoes. In the version of grief we imagine, the model will be “healing.” A certain forward movement will prevail. The worst days will be the earliest days. We imagine that the moment to most severely test us will be the funeral, after which this hypothetical healing will take place. When we anticipate the funeral we wonder about failing to “get through it,” rise to the occasion, exhibit the “strength” that invariably gets mentioned as the correct response to death. We anticipate needing to steel ourselves the for the moment: will I be able to greet people, will I be able to leave the scene, will I be able even to get dressed that day? We have no way of knowing that this will not be the issue. We have no way of knowing that the funeral itself will be anodyne, a kind of narcotic regression in which we are wrapped in the care of others and the gravity and meaning of the occasion. Nor can we know ahead of the fact (and here lies the heart of the difference between grief as we imagine it and grief as it is) the unending absence that follows, the void, the very opposite of meaning, the relentless succession of moments during which we will confront the experience of meaninglessness itself. — Joan Didion, Year of Magical Thinking

When great trees fall,
rocks on distant hills shudder,
lions hunker down
in tall grasses,
and even elephants
lumber after safety.

When great trees fall
in forests,
small things recoil into silence,
their senses
eroded beyond fear.

When great souls die,
the air around us becomes
light, rare, sterile.
We breathe, briefly.
Our eyes, briefly,
see with
a hurtful clarity.
Our memory, suddenly sharpened,
examines,
gnaws on kind words
unsaid,
promised walks
never taken.

Great souls die and
our reality, bound to
them, takes leave of us.
Our souls,
dependent upon their
nurture,
now shrink, wizened.
Our minds, formed
and informed by their
radiance,
fall away.
We are not so much maddened
as reduced to the unutterable ignorance
of dark, cold
caves.

And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly. Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed. They existed.
We can be. Be and be
better. For they existed.

— Maya Angelou

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