What God Intends for Us: To Be a Community

What God Intends for Us: To Be a Community

Shabbat Shalom! A Reflection From Vice President, Mission and Ministry at Fairfield University, Rev. Gerry Blaszczak, S.J.

On Friday, March 27, Rabbi Jim Prosnit, long-time member of the Religious Studies faculty and Campus Ministry’s Jewish chaplain, gathered us, as he does regularly, for the evening Shabbat service.

This time, however, our congregation of Fairfield students, faculty, staff, and friends was not meeting in the Interfaith Chapel of Faber Hall, but online, through Zoom. Ably assisted by Cantor Brian Shamash of Congregation Beth El and his wife, Dr. Emily Shamash of Fairfield’s Graduate School of Education and Allied Professions, Rabbi Prosnit, began the service by inviting us to join in singing Psalm 133.1: “How good and how pleasant it is that brothers and sisters dwell together as one.”

How good indeed. How uplifting, how precious to see those faces, to hear those off-tune voices, to be together in this time of imposed separation and often painful isolation. Here we were, from our homes, from our solitude, once again experiencing what it is that God indeed intends for us: to be a community, to be one. How good it was to experience again what I so obviously and deeply need: community. Community, which, I confess, I am prone to undervalue, ignore, fail to cultivate and sacrifice for.

The liturgy almost immediately gets down to business: it invites us to praise our God, “Ruler of the Universe … Creator of day and night … rolling light from darkness and darkness from light.” Ruler even of this strange season, this odd Shabbat in the time of the virus? Yes, we dared to affirm: Ruler of a time we cannot make sense of, of a world under attack by an invisible enemy.  But what were we saying? Are You, O Creator, still in charge? Are you still reliable and worthy of our individual and collective confidence?

As if to anticipate our questioning hearts the liturgy goes on to proclaim, as it has across the centuries: “You have loved the House of Israel, your people, with an everlasting love.” Is this a love that could be empirically proved? Can we be persuaded? That is not the business of the liturgy, though the questions roil within our restless minds. No, the liturgy, rather, beckons us home to the sacred images handed on to us by our ancestors. The sort of language that can work its way into the depth of our hearts and speak the truth that alone frees us and rightly orders us: it tells us of a love that embraces, touches, soothes, uplifts, defends, reaches out, binds, heals, upholds, never lets go.

In the face of such a love, in the everywhere-reflected face of such a God (“Who indeed is like our God?” the liturgy will ponder), what can we do in response to such a love, one never earned, never conditioned, never at risk? Even in this season screaming out terrifying news, whispering of dangers on all sides, and haunting me with unanswerable questions, what can I do but hear, take this love to heart, and affirm:  Yes, there is no other God, no other love to rival, to compete. You alone, O God. Only You. And You have me. All my mind, heart, will. You have all of me.

The “Aleinu” prayer comes almost at the end of the liturgy: “It is on us.” Given what we have heard and affirmed, it is on us not to despair. Not to forget. It us on us to cross the desert together once more. To wander again in strange lands. On us to refuse to abandon the one who will not, cannot abandon us. Aleinu: It is on us to leave no one behind, no one alone by the side of the road. On us to bow in obedience and loyalty to You and no other. On us to become a blessing to all peoples. On us to embrace now, especially now, the vision and task of a world repaired and healed and renewed. On us.

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Last modified: 04-03-20 9:18 AM

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