We Still Have Hope: Chaplains Respond to Our National Crisis
January 8, 2021
The attack on the Capitol on Wednesday has left a deep wound in our nation’s heart. As we all collectively grapple with this divisive moment of crisis, IFYC reached out to diverse interfaith leaders on campuses across the nation for prayers, reflections, and words of hope to remind us all that in the end it is hope that always persists. Here are their responses.
1. Rabbi Ira J. Dounn, the Senior Jewish Educator at the Center for Jewish Life – Princeton Hillel, shares a reflection on reconciliation from his Jewish faith.
In traditional Jewish prayer, there is regular practice called tachanun (supplications) in which we put our heads on our arms and acknowledge our failures and shortcomings. Human beings are all imperfect. So are the nations that they lead and the societies that they build.
Repentance and forgiveness are also core tenets of Jewish belief. We can get better. We can make amends. Even in our darkest moments there can be forgiveness. The relationships that have been blemished can, with effort and persistence, be restored.
Jews around the world celebrated Chanukah just a couple of weeks ago. The Temple in Jerusalem was desecrated millennia ago as the Capitol Building was desecrated days ago. But the Temple was restored and rededicated – this is indeed the Chanukah miracle.
May we work together towards reconciliation and rededication to the lofty ideals that this country was founded upon. It is then that America can rededicate our Capitol Building once again as the shining light, the beacon of democracy, for all the world to see.
2. Harrison Blum, Director of Religious and Spiritual Life at Amherst College, and a follower of Insight Meditation of Buddhism, offers a prayer for humble wisdom to lead our actions.
I wrestle with what we often call moments of crisis. Certainly, it is a threat to our nation and ideals of democracy when our Capitol is forcibly invaded, a vote to confirm our next President interrupted, and life taken. And yet, the crisis was present before these doors were broken in. White wealth is ten times greater than Black wealth in this country, and yet Congress has yet to pass HR40 to formally examine the case for reparations for African Americans. I pray for our collective humility and wisdom, but more and more the language of our prayers must be conscientious action. So, let that then be my prayer, for humble wisdom to lead our actions, that the long arc toward justice may be a bit shorter.
3. Dr. Shakeer A. Abdullah, Vice President of Student Affairs at Clayton State University, shares the opening of the Quran, known as Al-Fatiha, as a reflection.
In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
All praise is due to God, the Lord of the Worlds.
the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful.
Master of the Day of Judgment.
You Alone we worship, and you Alone we ask for help.
Guide us to the straight/upright path.
the path of those You have blessed; not of those who have displeased you, nor of those who have gone astray.
These are considered the seven most often repeated verses and serve as a reminder that we need God’s mercy and guidance in order to be among those who are beneficial to the world.
4. Rev. Colleen Hallagan Preuninger, Associate Dean for Religious & Spiritual Life at Stanford University, shares this powerful prayer for humility at this moment.
The Morning(s) After
The sun rose on Thursday morning, the nation’s capital fresh and bitter cold. After a day of frenzied frothing the sober rays illumined the wreckage, ordinary workers left to do the arduous work of restoration. “Just part of the job,” one said, raking piles of trash left behind by yesterday’s mob. Among the discarded beer cans and Starbucks cups, a sign reads “Jesus saves,” a noose, and a confederate flag. This is America. Do not look away.
Here among the trash left for others to clean is where Americans may find hope this morning and every morning hereafter. It is here, as citizens of the commonwealth of God, we may survey the sober reality of our national circumstance and choose another way. Rooted in our faith, clearing our eyes and filling our hearts, we are invited to the work of restoration.
Prayer: God of justice and hope, we come to you in a place of great pain and distress. Give us the humility to face the sober reality of this day, and every day. May we have the courage to acknowledge the systems of harm, the humility to accept our own complicity, and the resolve to do the slow and arduous work of restoration. Amen.
5. Jennifer Howe Peace, Senior Advisor at The Pluralism Project at Harvard University, shares a prayer for healing.
“For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise, they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.” – Matt 13:15, NIV
For days I have been dispassionately taking in the tragic facts of what happened on January 6th in our nation’s Capital. But I seem to be missing my affect. Years ago, I heard war correspondent Philip Caputo, talk about the violence he witnessed while covering the Lebanese civil war. He said, “It had kind of cloaked my heart in an emotional flak jacket so I could look at the most tragic and horrible sites and not really feel much of anything except a kind of contempt for human folly.” After years of watching demonization and greed win out over hospitality and mercy, I understand. I can feel the calluses building. For Caputo, it was only when he was shot in the leg and experienced his own suffering that he regained compassion for the suffering of others. I can relate to reactions of anger and calls for action. They have a place. But for me, the spiritual task in this moment is to connect with my own suffering and pray for healing – for myself, for those I disagree with, and for everyone who cares about our miraculous, essential, yet fragile democracy.
6. Sharon M.K. Kugler, University Chaplain at Yale University, shares a prayer of trust in God during this moment.
Loving God, I do feel your breath in the darkness… when I remember,
to be still. I do know you are there…
when I remember
to let go of my defenses. I do let you love me…
when I remember
to trust that no matter what… you do.
7. The Rev. Alison L. Boden, Dean of Religious Life and the Chapel at Princeton University, shares a beautiful prayer asking God to remind us to embody love in all that we do.
Remind us, O God,
that you hold all of humanity in the palm of your loving hand,
that you call us to embody your love to all people,
that we change the world when we simply live
by honesty, humility, integrity, compassion, and love,
that you have promised justice to be our shared inheritance,
and that your invitation to join you in its fulfillment is the purpose and joy of our lives.
8. The Rev. Dr. C. Denise Yarbrough, Director, Religious and Spiritual Life at the University of Rochester, shares a prayer from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer – For Our Country.
Almighty God, who has given us this good land for our
heritage: We humbly beseech you that we may always prove
ourselves a people mindful of your favor and glad to do your will.
Bless our land with honorable industry, sound learning, and
pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion;
from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way. Defend
our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitudes
brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues. Endue
with the spirit of wisdom those to whom we entrust
the authority of government, that there may be justice and
peace at home, and that, we may show forth your praise among the nations of the earth.
In the time of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness,
and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in you to fail;
all which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
9. Dr. Simran Jeet Singh, educator, writer, and activist, reflects on the pain of today and the promise of tomorrow that’s waiting for us on the other side.
Just before being elected as the first Black Senator to represent Georgia, Reverend Raphael Warnock shared: “I know it’s dark. But the dawn is coming. And joy comes in the morning.”
Little did he know how dark it would get over the next few days. Just hours after Rev. Warnock was declared the winner of the Senate race, insurrectionists would storm the US Capitol at the behest of the American President.
For the first time in American history, Georgia had elected its first Black Senator. And for the first time in American history, the Confederate Flag flew in the US Capitol.
It’s in times like these, where hope seems most distant, that we can heed the wisdom of Rev. Warnock and of our own faith traditions. It’s darkest just before dawn. With loss comes redemption. There’s always good for us to grasp onto.
This is what faith means, to hold firm to the belief that all is good and that all will be good — even when, and especially when, all seems lost.
This everlasting optimism, which Sikhs describe as chardi kala, is a parent to resilience. It’s what keeps us going when we feel like giving up. It’s knowing that there is more to our pain than we know and that what’s waiting for us on the other side is the promise of tomorrow — or in the words of Rev. Warnock, the light of the dawn.
10. Vineet Chander, Coordinator for Hindu Life at Princeton University, shares a prayer offering peace and hope to the world.
स्वस्त्यस्तु विश्वस्य खल: प्रसीदतां
ध्यायन्तु भूतानि शिवं मिथो धिया ।
मनश्च भद्रं भजतादधोक्षजे
आवेश्यतां नो मतिरप्यहैतुकी ॥ ९ ॥
svasty astu viśvasya khalaḥ prasīdatāṁ
dhyāyantu bhūtāni śivaṁ mitho dhiyā
manaś ca bhadraṁ bhajatād adhokṣaje
āveśyatāṁ no matir apy ahaitukī
“May the entire universe be blessed with peace and hope. May everyone driven by envy and enmity become pacified and reconciled. May all living beings develop abiding concern for the welfare of others. May our own hearts and minds be filled with purity and serenity. May all these blessings flow naturally from this supreme benediction: May our attention become spontaneously absorbed in the rapture of pure love unto the one transcendent Supreme.” (Bhāgavata Purāṇa 5.18.9; transl. by Ravindra Svarupa Das)
The unprecedented storming of the U.S. Capitol by a treasonous mob, incited by the seditious urging of a leader who has demonstrated unparalleled recklessness and moral bankruptcy, is a wake-up call to us all. As we struggle to make sense of this painful moment, we might remember this benediction, found in the Bhāgavata Purāṇa and attributed to the celebrated child saint Prahlada. Prahlada himself suffered the devastation wrought by a corrupt, ego-driven, exploitative leader. Yet, in response, he prayed for reconciliation and healing. In this spirit, may we too meet the forces of hatred and division with the infinitely greater power of love and unity.
11. Rev. Dr. Gail Cantor, Director of Spiritual Life at Endicott College, shares writing by Howard Thurman: American Baptist preacher and theologian, the first African American dean of chapel at a traditionally white American university, and a founder of the first interracial interfaith congregation in the United States.
During these turbulent times we must remind ourselves repeatedly that life goes on.
This we are apt to forget.
The wisdom of life transcends our wisdoms;
the purpose of life outlasts our purposes;
the process of life cushions our processes.
The mass attack of disillusion and despair,
distilled out of the collapse of hope,
has so invaded our thoughts that what we know to be true and valid seems unreal and ephemeral.
There seems to be little energy left for aught but futility.
This is the great deception.
By it whole peoples have gone down to oblivion
without the will to affirm the great and permanent strength of the clean and the commonplace.
Let us not be deceived.
It is just as important as ever to attend to the little graces
by which the dignity of our lives is maintained and sustained.
Birds still sing;
the stars coniine to cast their gentle gleam over the desolation of the battlefields,
and the heart is still inspired by the kind word and the gracious deed.
There is no need to fear evil.
There is every need to understand what it does,
how it operates in the world,
what it draws upon to sustain itself.
We must not shrink from the knowledge of the evilness of evil.
Over and over we must know that the real target of evil is not destruction of the body,
the reduction to rubble of cities;
the real target of evil
is to corrupt the spirit of man and to give his soul the contagion of inner disintegration.
When this happens,
there is nothing left,
the very citadel of man is captured and laid waste.
Therefore the evil in the world around us must not be allowed to move from without to within.
This would be to be overcome by evil.
To drink in the beauty that is within reach,
to clothe one’s life with simple deeds of kindness,
to keep alive a sensitiveness to the movement of the spirit of God
in the quietness of the human heart and in the workings of the human mind—
this is as always the ultimate answer to the great deception.
From Howard Thurman’s Meditations of the Heart
12. Rabbi Nick Renner, Senior Jewish Educator at Hillel in the University of Delaware, shares a prayer offering a blessing to our government and elected officials.
“Rabbi Hanina, the vice-high priest said: Pray for the welfare of the government, for were it not for the ____ it inspires, everyone would swallow their neighbor alive.” -Pirkei Avot 3:2
In this piece, from the early rabbis of approximately 2000 years ago, I left out a word from the translation. Often it’s translated as “fear”–a commentary on human nature and what might happen absent government. However, the word “fear” could also be translated as “awe” and this to me feels instructive. If I would offer us a blessing for this time, it should be that our government and elected officials might lead us in ways that don’t inspire fear or narrowness.
I pray that the Holy One would bless our government and leaders such that they inspire awe in us, lifting us to our best selves.
13. Gail Stearns, The Irvin C. and Edy Chapman Dean of the Wallace All Faiths Chapel at Chapman University, shares a moving reflection from the Prophet Amos.
Being asked to offer a word of scripture appropriate to this moment has given me pause. My first impulse was to offer comfort to all shaken by the unfolding of the storming of the Capitol Building on January 6, 2021. But as a few days have lapsed, the only scripture repeating in my mind contains words not of comfort, but justice, from the prophet Amos:
Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
Let us hold in our hearts and lift with our actions our Jewish and Black and all our brothers and sisters directly targeted by this violence, perpetrated by power politics and domestic terrorists aiming to protect and defend White Supremacy. Let us commit ourselves to prayers and actions for peace, justice, and righteousness.
14. Rabbi Patricia Karlin-Neumann, Senior Associate Dean for Religious Life at Stanford University, shares a reflection on the poetry of Alice Walker and its relevancy in our struggle for democracy.
Within the ancient books of our rich and diverse religious traditions is an account of an incursion into the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, defiling those sacred precincts, wreaking destruction in its wake. In that story, when those who served within the sanctuary returned to restore it, they lit a small jar of oil, sufficient for one day. But miraculously, it burned for eight days.
On January 6, 2021, one of our nation’s sacred civic precincts was breached and defiled by a mob of insurrectionists menacing elected leaders and threatening our democracy. In our day, we cannot rely on a divine miracle to bring light and restore faith.
But the light did shine upon the institutions of our democracy, not the light of warm comfort, but the harsh glare of cold reality. The defilers of our day, fed by a steady diet of lies and grievances, brought the anger consistently stoked by some in leadership to its logical conclusion. Their violent assault on our Capitol laid bare for all to see how fragile is our democracy, how acceptable is our tolerance for authoritarianism, how pervasive is white supremacy, making for yawning differences in law enforcement between Black and White. What the light has illuminated is how extensive is the work of restoration ahead of us.
We cannot look away or diminish the power of the moment we are in. Restoration requires every one of us to commit to protecting, preserving, to build the democracy envisioned, longed-for, but never yet achieved. If we are to be guardians of our democracy, if we are to repair the deep lacerations in our body politic, we need one another. We need education and civic engagement, courage and culpability, truth, and fortitude.
What poet Alice Walker urges as a determined Black woman is equally true for all of us in the parallel struggle for democracy and justice for all, “Each one, pull one.”
“Each one, pull one back into the sun
We who have stood over
So many graves
Know that no matter what they do
All of us must live
We have no time to lose.