The Spiritual Practice of “And”

i’ve been praying,
and these are what my prayers look like;
dear god
i come from two countries
one is thirsty
the other is on fire
both need water.

later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
and whispered
where does it hurt?

it answered
everywhere
everywhere
everywhere.

— Warsan Shire, from “What They Did Yesterday Afternoon”

 

 

Dear Ones,

As I prayed my own prayers this morning, I murmured the names of Notre Dame, and Al Aqsa, and St. Mary and Greater Union and Mt. Pleasant Baptist Churches.  I prayed for Rep. Ilhan Omar as the President comes after her evoking anti-Islamic/ anti-Black/ misogynist tropes, and for the leaders of our Muslim and Jewish communities here and nationwide who refuse to let the Right drive a wedge between them.  I lifted up our Christian kin as they follow the stations of the cross toward Easter in this Holy Week, and our Jewish beloveds who will begin celebrating Pesach tonight.  I held those grieving and fighting the implementation of the ban against transgender people serving in the military, and I prayed for our country’s repentance from xenophobic militarism as we continue to detain 50,000 people a day at our southern border while now illegally declaring they can be held indefinitely in cages.  

Sometimes, prayer is the spiritual practice of letting your heart grow big enough to contain all the “and”s.  Not just the “and”s of the plethora of things always in need of attention and compassion and action, but the “and”s of contradiction, complexity, and nuance.  Because the answer to the question “Where does it hurt?” is indeed “everywhere/ everywhere/ everywhere.”  

Our Unitarian Universalist theology unquestionably compels us to see and acknowledge the brokenness of the world.  But I often wonder if our optimism about the moral arc of the universe bending toward justice–usually accompanied by a sense of urgency to act and fix–has left us ill-equipped to really face unflinchingly and feel in our bones the depths of all the “and”s. 

Today as I write, Christians across the globe observe Good Friday–a ritual commemoration of the crucifixion of Jesus at the hands of a persecuting empire, a violent state that thought they could kill a movement for justice by killing a man.  In the ancient Christian liturgy of Tenebrae, candles are successively put out as the story of Jesus’ death is told.  At the end of the service, the last light is extinguished, and the participants leave in silence after a loud bang announces the closing of the tomb.  

Whether or not this Christian ritual has any personal theological significance to you, the invitation of Good Friday stretches beyond any denominational boundary: 
Can we face the depths of brokenness in the world around us?
Can we allow our hearts to crack open as we witness the violence perpetrated against so many of our human siblings?
Can we sit together, simply accompanying each other in our feelings of anger and grief and powerlessness?

I am grateful that our religious tradition of Unitarian Universalism is so clear that humans have agency and power to shape the world and the systems in which we live.  Those fundamental tenets of our faith are what will get me out of bed tomorrow, and the next day, and the next.  

AND.

There are times when I simply need to sit with the sadness and the powerlessness.  I believe it makes me more human.  

So today, if you are in a space of feeling overwhelmed, cracked open, or simply tender in the face all the “and”s of the brokenness of the world, know that you are not alone.  The despair and panic and weariness you hold is not yours to shoulder by yourself, and the cracked places of your heart are what allow the soft tendrils of empathy and connection to unfurl outward, bringing you into connection with others.  

In this season of so many religious stories that point to both the realities of evil, trauma, and violence AND the possibilities of resurrection, liberation, and justice, may you find the spaciousness to hold all the complexities.  

It is good to be human together.

In faith and solidarity,

Rev. Ashley Horan
MUUSJA Executive Director

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