Rev. Cynthia Owen Jarrold, National Policy Director, Gamaliel
The year 586 B.C.E. resulted in a crisis of unbelievable proportions for the people of Israel. Jerusalem lay in ruins, and the people were carried as captives to Babylon, exiles in a strange land. The structures that defined the social, religious, and political life of the people of Israel collapsed, much like the walls of the Temple, leaving the community uncertain and fearful about their future.
For many in the U.S., the last four years have amounted to living in exile in a strange land . . . a land increasingly divided in which family members, neighbors, acquaintances, and others in our communities have become estranged from one another . . . a land in which people have become ever more marginalized or victimized . . . a land in which public “servants” seem more like public “oppressors.”
Through Psalm 137, the singer captures the ensuing feelings of humiliation, dishonor, defeat, grief, and anger experienced by the exiled community. “How do we sing the Lord’s song—a song of hope, of justice, of community—in a strange land,” the psalmist asks. “And what do we do with our desire for vengeance equal to what we have suffered?”
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, South African Anglican cleric and theologian and human rights activist provides a compelling response: Remember! Remembering is painful; remembering is disturbing; but remembering is acknowledging the grief and the anger and resisting the recurrence of the unspeakable, the immoral. Remembering is to live and to be faithful to God’s intent for humanity.
On November 4, regardless of the outcome, we will find ourselves in a strange land with rubble surrounding us. As people of faith, we must be prepared to sing the Lord’s song with compassion and forgiveness and a commitment to building God’s community on Earth.
Questions for Reflection
- What is the grief and the anger you carry into this election?
- How will you say “no” to vengeance and “yes” to remembering?
- How will you sing the Lord’s song in the post-election strange land?
Psalm 137:1-4 (NRSV)
1 By the rivers of Babylon—
there we sat down and there we wept
when we remembered Zion.
2 On the willows there
we hung up our harps.
3 For there our captors
asked us for songs,
and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying,
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
4 How could we sing the Lord’s song
in a strange land?
St. Augustine, the 4th century Bishop of Hippo in North Africa, has been credited with this statement: “He who sings prays twice.” Listen to the Neville Brothers rendition of Psalm 137:1-4: https://youtu.be/2WQ4fvet5vQ [skip over the ad if it appears]
“Forgiving is not forgetting; it’s actually remembering—remembering and not using your right to hit back. It’s a second chance for a new beginning. And the remembering part is particularly important. Especially if you don’t want to repeat what happened.”
—Archbishop Desmond Tutu
The Common Prayer on Our Journey
Source of all being, Sacred mystery, you are the wellspring of justice. Weaver of the warp and weft of history, weave our lives into the fabric of your will. Guide us towards the Beloved Community. Forgive us when we have failed to give shape to the Beloved Community in our communities and in our lives.
All around us the ugly onslaughts of white nationalism, hate crimes, and systemic racism devastate your people, divide us, and threaten our democracy. All around us the wicked strut, and in high places are those who encourage the basest of attitudes and actions. Grant us wisdom and courage to confront these evils with the power of love and truth. Free us from timidity and equivocation. Help us to be bold in thought and action. May our lives and our faith communities model the change we hope to see in the world.
As we approach the November elections, keep us mindful that the right to vote is a sacred trust won by beatings, by imprisonments, by blood, by the relentless struggles of many who came before us. Help us to honor that legacy. May we vote our conscience and encourage others to do the same.
Heal our nation. Heal our hearts. Heal our nation. Amen.
Gamaliel National Religious Leaders’ Caucus invites you to 40 Days of Reflection on Our Journey to the Polls
Few national elections have had similar consequences as the November Election in 2020. Our nation stands in crisis and at a significant crossroad. The Gamaliel Network, an interfaith coalition of persons of faith who stand and act together for justice and equality, pledges to undergird the 40 days leading up to the election with prayer and reflection.
We urge you to use the Common Prayer below every day. On each day, we have asked a faith leader, from different traditions, to offer a reflection on the Common Prayer at this Moment of American Crossroads. We urge you to begin this prayer preparation with a day of fasting on Sept. 24,(or a similar expression of spiritual preparation), and then to engage in prayer at a time of your choosing each day, to prepare yourself, your friends and neighbors, and our nation, for this election.
The Gamaliel Religious Leaders Table has written a “Theological Statement on Hate Crimes and White Nationalism.” a faith statement on “White Nationalism.” The link to this statement is: https://gamaliel.org/our-work/religious-leaders-caucus/gnrlc-a-faithful-response-to-hate-crimes-and-white-nationalism/
Each reflection will include the leader’s personal reflection, questions for contemplation, and a suggested scriptural text from their tradition.
The Gamaliel National Religious Leaders’ Steering Committee