Yesterday we Rochesterians were enjoying our first warm spring day after a long and brutally cold winter season. Here at the University of Rochester campus, the students were out all over the quad, sporting tank tops, shorts and sandals and reveling in the warm air and the sunshine. Then, shortly after 3:00 we began to hear reports about the Boston bombing. Students from the Boston area were checking cell phones and texting friends and relatives back home to make sure they were all right. Everyone was riveted to Facebook and Twitter feeds and news outlets as the reports of yet another act of senseless violence shattered our sense of normalcy and calm on a balmy April afternoon. I found myself wondering where is it safe to go in this country anymore? School? Movie theaters? Places of worship? Political rallies or events? A marathon?? A mall? In the past year all of those places have been scenes of violence and destruction as deranged shooters, and now a yet-unknown bomber, slay countless innocent people for no apparent reason. I watched with a weary heart as the scenes of the explosions were shown over and over again on television news coverage, scenes of smoke and debris and blood and human beings crying out in pain and anguish, as their world is literally shattered. One image particularly caught me up short. It was a photograph of a woman, on her knees, hands clasped together, face turned upwards, praying, right there in the midst of the crowds and debris, as first responders and medics helped victims and people in the crowd searched frantically for loved ones and runners finished the race and looked for their families. Quietly, tearfully and faithfully she offered prayers, lips moving as she poured out her anguish and grief, her pleas for help and solace to God as destruction reigned around her.
Prayer is something people of faith do. For many of us, it is as natural as breathing. For those of us who engage in interfaith dialogue, prayer is something we know all our friends of whatever faith tradition share, even though we use different postures and different words. In moments of crisis the human impulse to cry out to the divine simply erupts in all languages, as we seek to find the strength to carry on in the midst of suffering and to offer solace to those who are in pain and those who grieve. At our interfaith chapel staff meeting today, the rabbi whose turn it was to open the meeting with prayer, led us in praying a psalm of lament and Psalm 23, the famous psalm of comfort for those who grieve. I was aware of prayers being offered at places of worship in all traditions all over the city and the country as everyone took in the horror and the grief of this tragedy and came together in solidarity with those who were injured and killed through the universal language of prayer. In mosques, gurdwaras, temples, synagogues, churches and homes people of all different faith traditions are offering prayers.
Some would ask, so what? Do the prayers bring back the dead? Do they heal the suffering? Those of us who are religious and/or spiritual believe that prayer does make a difference. While it may or may not change the outcome of a human tragedy, it changes the heart of the pray-er. And in the midst of the violence that afflicts our culture today, changing hearts is one of the most important things we can do to move towards forgiveness and reconciliation and away from vengeance and a thirst for revenge. Prayer makes space in the human heart for compassion. As all spiritual and religious traditions have known through the ages, it takes peace deep within the human heart to make peace possible in the world.
So as we go through yet another week of waiting and speculating and wondering about who did this violent act and why, I join with my brothers and sisters of all the world’s faith traditions in a commitment to sustained and sincere prayer. Prayer for those who died, for those who are fighting for their lives, for those whose lives are forever changed due to injury and loss, for those who are conducting the investigation and those who are emotionally wounded from the pain and horror they witnessed at the scene of the carnage. Prayers for all of us that we might rise above anger and vengeance, blame and shame, and remember our common humanity. When the “perpetrator” is finally found, may we seek justice with mercy so that slowly but surely we can build a world founded on the kind of inner peace that may help to reduce the violence that so mars our world. I take comfort in knowing that all across this land prayers are being offered in Arabic, Hebrew, Sanskrit, Hindi, Punjabi, Spanish, French, Russian, Greek, Chinese, Japanese and myriad other languages to the divine whom we all address by different names lifting up before the Holy One those who have been affected by this most recent tragedy while simultaneously working on the hearts of all of us pray-ers as we open ourselves to the compassion of the divine heart. Amen.