Maybe you can understand why I said yes without hesitation last week. My dear friend, Harriet, asked if I would represent the Christian faith at a Shabbat Service Friday evening, to participate in an interfaith grief ritual. “To come together, facing our broken hearts,” she said on the phone last Thursday. “Giving up isolation from each other, grieving the terrible loss of life and hope, and reaffirm our connection together.”
You need to know, Harriet and her late husband, Gerald, were more members of our family than friends when I was growing up. They were second parents to my siblings and me. Inspiring and beautiful, she was like a living version of the large Modigliani print that hung on the wall of the narrow staircase leading up to our bedrooms beneath the attic eaves of our farmhouse. Statuesque, a long neck and braid down her back, I wanted to be Harriet when I grew up.
I still do.
She has always stood tall for peace and justice. She is a great warrior of her faith. So when she asked me if I would be willing to share some words—a prayer, a poem—I said, “Yes.”
Then I did what I do. I prayed, called my friend Nancy who prayed too and then also asked our Bible Study women to pray over me on Friday morning before the Shabbat service that evening. See, being asked to represent Jesus is not necessarily something we can do alone. He wants us to link hearts and lives together through his Spirit. It’s taken me time to understand this.
As the hours passed on Friday, I tried to trust. However, I couldn’t help but wonder how I would share Jesus in a Jewish setting. What if I offended someone in the midst of their grief? All I hoped to do was to share the grief we’ve all been experiencing since October 7, to be, or to bring an offering of hope.
Maybe you can understand my relief when it was decided mid-afternoon that seven mothers and grandmothers would read seven pre-selected poems. I didn’t need to depend on my own words.
That evening, as the seven of us stood before those gathered, four poems had been read when Harriet said in a moment of solemn silence, “This is our grief ritual. Tears are welcomed here.” She took my hand.
My poem wasn’t long, it spoke in metaphor of the four seasons which I often do in my own writing. But when my turn came, I was caught off guard.
Maybe you can understand. I do have experience speaking in front of great crowds of people, and was able to push through grief as I spoke at my own father’s funeral. But there, in those moments, I was so suddenly overcome with emotion, I could not speak. From somewhere deep within me, rose up a great well of tears, and all I could do was weep.
After what felt like a terribly uncomfortable pause, I managed to recite the first line: “At the rising sun and it’s going down, We remember them…” but that was all. My nose started to run, tears spilled over. A woman came up from her seat and handed me a pack of Kleenex.
Oh, “Man of Sorrows”, You are so well acquainted with grief, was that it? Had You called me to go that evening, to share Your tears and not my words?
I spent the weekend reflecting, emotion rising and falling, as family had been in town for a wedding, as we went to church together, as we gathered to watch the game together, just as, I believe, Jesus was there with me Friday evening.
Just as I believe He walks the streets of war and dark tunnels of devastation on the other side of the world, just as He walks with you and me, weeps with those who weep, with those who are wounded and mourning, with all those who are crushed in spirit.
I understand now, when we are called to be God’s hands and feet on this earth, we will also be called to be his tears.
As Harriet’s eyes met mine, we were one in that moment, a Jew and a Christian, standing tall together. Our lives, one in spirit.
Isn’t that all God wants?
This is the poem I had so much difficulty reading. My part was the first section, Harriet’s, the second:
“At the rising sun and at it’s going down; We remember them. At the blowing of the wind and in the chill of winter; We remember them. At the opening of the buds and in the rebirth of spring; We remember them. At the blueness of the skies and in the warmth of summer; We remember them. At the rustling of the leaves and in the beauty of the autumn; We remember them. At the beginning of the year and when it ends; We remember them. As long as we live, they too will live, for they now are a part of us as We remember them.
“When we are weary and in need of strength; We remember them. When we are lost and sick at heart; We remember them. When we have decisions that are difficult to make; We remember them. When we have joy we crave to share; We remember them. When we have achievements that are based on theirs; We remember them. For as long as we live, they too will live, for they are now a part of us as, We remember them.”
by Sylvan Kamens & Rabbi Jack Reiner
We wish for our world a Sabbath of Peace.