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Shabbat Shalom

It is Sunday afternoon. There is a slight breeze – cool and gentle. Long sleeves are welcome. The sky is cornflower blue with clouds that look like dollops of sour cream plopped across its wide expanse. My steps make a crunching sound. That, along with the occasional avian tweet and the brushing of pine needles against each other high in the sky, is the only noise. I am struck by how peaceful it all is. It was Friday night. The pew on which I sat was straight and hard. The sanctuary was built of dark wood and stone. The stained glass windows shimmered with the last of the day’s sunlight and, as it faded completely, the service began. Though Saint Mark’s is an Episcopal church, this was not an Episcopal service. Not even a Christian one. Temple Beth Tefilloh is a tiny Jewish shul which shares a backyard with the imposing St. Mark’s. For this shabbat service, the first since the attack by Hamas on Israel, they have borrowed their neighbor’s facilities. They expected a crowd. And they got one. Going to church had not been the way I had expected to begin my weekend at the beach, a couple of days in which to celebrate my birthday with laughter and conversation and the scent of marsh and salt water mingled into the perfect sensory cocktail. I expected sunshine and frivolity. Expectations, of course, can be dangerous things. The friend who was hosting me, who has only recently made this town her new home, heard about the service and suggested we go, that we lend ourselves to this opportunity to pray for peace in Israel. The day’s gray clouds still hovered as we made our way up the wide concrete steps. I didn’t notice the police officer on the sidewalk. As we waited for sundown, I looked around the sanctuary at the men and women filling the pews. But for the vestments worn by some of the Christian clergy and the yarmulkes worn by the Jewish men, one could never have determined from which branches of God’s family each of us came. “A Call to Rest, a Call to Peace,” the first page of the program read and over the next hour and a half I did my best to follow the prayers and laments, Hebrew interspersed with English, led by the young woman at the front of the church. There were songs, all sung in minor keys. There was the blessing of the wine and, later, the blessing of the bread that, amazingly, resembled more than a little the service of communion in my own church. It was all meant to lead us into reflection on what was going on, is going on halfway around the world where it is not peaceful. It is Sunday afternoon again. On this long dirt road, alone but for my dog, I am safe, but I cannot stop thinking about those who are not. Friday night did something to me. I was reminded – not in a banal, cliche way, but in a powerful, tangible, feel it in my bones way – that what we share is what makes us human. Our differences – skin color, religion, ideas about how to repair the world so in need of repair – may give some of us the excuse to separate, ostracize, or even harm, but they will never change the fact that there is common ground, ground which lies within our hearts. Near the end of her sermon, Rabbi Bregman offered that, “Peace will come only when the hatred we feel for our enemies is less than the love we feel for our children.” I looked around me at the congregation, filled undoubtedly with parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, people whose thoughts, like mine, immediately filled with images of the children who are the objects of their love. There is nothing, I could safely assume, that they would not do to protect those toddlers, teenagers, grown men and women who will always be children in their eyes. What if, I wondered, moving through the dappled shadows of my dirt road, my safe dirt road, the best thing we can do for our children is love our enemies? What would that mean? What would that take? The sun is almost directly overhead now and the shadows are short. The road rises gently and one foot follows the other. I will cover three miles this way – one step at a time. It is the only way to do anything.

Copyright 2023

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Love our enemies . . . as ourselves? Hmm. Now, there’s a thought.

Thanks, friend, for another lovely post.

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