On December 31, 2015 I was honored to be invited to give the Reflection at the New Year’s Eve Interfaith Prayer Celebration at Saint Ignatius Jesuit Church of Baltimore. I spoke about “The Blessing of Knowing.”
May the year be blessed in its going and its coming. Archbishop Lori and Father Casciotti, my gratitude to you for the invitation to speak from your beautiful pulpit and to add my voice to those who seek blessing for 2016.
For we need blessing for our beautiful city, our extraordinary communities, our beloved world.
Alas, she sits low in solitude, a city that was great among cities, has become like a widow.
Thus begins the book of Lamentations and well we know what is has been to weep bitterly in the night, our cheeks wet with tears. We have known fury and blazing wrath as parents watched their children consumed and we watched our city in flames and ruins.
Some would say it would be better not to see, not to know. Futility they cry out, utter futility so better not to know, not to see, not to hear.
But we are human and long ago, in the earliest hours after Creation, human beings chose to eat of the Tree of Knowledge so know we must and we are better for it. Among the many blessings of this past year has been the blessing of knowing. In many religious communities the New Year is celebrated by knowing, coming to know one’s community, coming to know one’s God, coming to know one’s self.
The biblical understanding of knowledge from the Garden of Eden, to Jacob wrestling with the angel, to God taking note of suffering is not intellectual knowing but rather the emotions and actions of caring. In the Bible to know someone is to care about them.
In Baltimore this year we have known suffering and despair, and we have known acts of mercy. Great acts of mercy that touched us and warmed us to the love of our neighbors and fellow citizens. Would we rather not know the daily acts of mercy that nourish the very core of this great city? Would we rather engage in humankind’s passion for ignorance?
We are grateful to our faith communities who have spoken up in favor of justice in so many ways, in fighting racism, in wrestling with the deep inequities of our society, in caring for those who have been cast out of home and country. Let us continue to be as vigilant in pursuing justice as we have been in pursuing mercy.
In 2015 many of us were blessed with profound interactions with people of other faiths, other races, other socioeconomic backgrounds. Let us continue this fellowship in 2016.
For the more we are aware of and know of another’s situation, the more we come to care about them. To know someone is to care about them. We must make a place for the other in our own ideology and theology. Respect is a beginning, but it is not enough. Acknowledging that the other has a legitimate place in God’s humanity is a next step, but it too is not enough. Our earthly goal is to come to know the other in thought, deed and action. When we do that, the world becomes a safer, better place. Our city becomes a safer, better place and that is a blessing we seek in 2016.
We have no passion for ignorance, hiding in the bowels of a ship in the middle of a tempest. If 2015 has been a tempest, then we have been painfully tossed. Let 2016 be the time when the winter has past and the rains are over and gone and we look forward.
In the Jewish tradition, there are laws that specify where one can pray. Ideally, one should pray in a room with windows so that one may look up to heaven. But the requirement to pray with windows is also tied to the need to look outwards, to know what is beyond us. We do not remain in our beautiful insular sanctuaries of faith or culture or government or justice. Even in these sacred moments of reflection and prayer, we are constantly urged to look and come to know that which is beyond our own space, our own community, our own insularity to the greater world beyond.
Dear God, let us have learned the lessons of the year that is soon to be past. Let us not leave it behind, but take its lessons and its gifts with us into the New Year. Have mercy on our city, our state and all who dwell in it. Let us inhale the fragrance of peace in every home, on every street corner, in every neighborhood. Let us know hope and joy amidst the anxiety and darkness. Let us find inspiration and embrace in the loving arms of our beloved city, our sisters and brothers in faith, our neighbors, our fellow human beings.
Takhel shanah u virkhoteha – may the New Year and its blessings now begin.
Shulchan Aruch with Mishna Brurah 90:4-5