Saturday, May 23, 2015
Memorial Day - Let us do as much as we can!!
“Prisoner at the bar,” said the judge, “I find you guilty on twenty-three counts. I therefore sentence you to a total of one hundred and seventy-five years.” The prisoner was an old man. He burst into tears. The judge’s facial expression softened. “I did not mean to be harsh,” he said. “I know the sentence I have imposed is a very severe one. You don’t really have to serve the whole of it.” The prisoner’s eyes brightened with hope. “That’s right,” said the judge. “Just do as much as you can!”
No doubt, we are all called to “do as much as we can” in our little corner of the world to be peacemakers. I recall a phone call I received some years ago from a woman who went daily to church for liturgy with her neighbors, friends, and others from the surrounding towns. She told me that she was calling because she was very concerned about the way the people at liturgy were treating her.
She went on to tell me that at the “sign of peace” when everyone reaches out with the gesture of a handshake or even a hug, she has decided not to reach out and she does not want to receive the handshake of peace. She continued her story with the details of how people approach her in her bench and extend their hand and she turns away from them.
She explained that after liturgy, people even had the audacity to follow her to her car in the parking lot and offer her a handshake of peace. Again, she spoke of how she hurried to enter her car, roll up the windows, and lock the doors – not wanting to share this sign of peace with anyone. Her question to me was, “ Aren't they wrong? How can I get them to leave me alone?”
As I listened I prayed for insight as to how to proceed. After she was finished describing her concern, I then spoke. I told her that the liturgy is not a private experience. We gather as a people of God – praying together in song – listening to the Word, breaking the bread and sharing the cup. It is a ritual of communion and union! Then I said that the handshake of peace is meant to be a sign of our willingness to live in harmony and right-relationship with each other and to let it be a prayer sent across the world for peace throughout the universe! She hung up on me!! I just did as much as I could to have her consider a conversion to being a peacemaker or “peace-hand-shaker.”
This weekend, we observe Memorial Day. Three years after the Civil War ended on May 5, 1868, it was established as Decoration Day – a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the ward dead with flowers. The proclamation by Gen. John Logan’s orders reads thus: “We are organized for the purpose, among other things, of preserving and strengthening those kind and fraternal feelings which have bound together the soldiers, sailors, and marines who united to suppress the late rebellion. What can aid more to assure this result than by cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead, who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foe?”
Let us observe this Memorial Day by doing as much as we can - remembering our power and capacity to gather as peacemakers; to strengthen our spirits and vision; to decorate our hearts with the flowers of nonviolence. It is a day of gathering with those who mourn at monuments, graves, and memorials. A day of gathering with those who stand in confusion, anger, shame, guilt, and vulnerability. A day of gathering to remember sacrifices and great losses. A day of gathering to remember ones still held captive throughout the world, or suffering mental anguish from the trauma of terrorism and the ravages of war. It is a day of gathering with those who stand with pride for courage demonstrated and for freedoms won.
Finally, let us do as much as we can to pray, assist, give comfort, express understanding and support to all those who have chosen to reach out in peace, and to those willing to make sacrifices through service to their country – and may we cherish tenderly the memory of our heroic deceased women and men.
“Suffering arises from the simple circumstances of life itself. Sometimes human suffering is dramatic and horrifying. More often it is ordinary, humble, and quiet. But neither way is it ‘God’s Will.’ The divine presence doesn't intend us to suffer, but is instead WITH us in all the experiences of life, in both suffering and joy. And that presence is always inviting us toward greater freedom and love.”
(Gerald G. May, M.D.)
Previously posted: May 2013