In the corridor leading from the classrooms in Demerest Hall to St. John’s Chapel are two banners, right next to one another, that I pass on a daily basis. One depicts an interracial handshake with the words from the New Testament, “Love casts out fear.” The other features three dancers beautifully posed in silhouette with a verse from a beloved Shaker hymn, “Dance, then, wherever you may be.” Their colors have faded with time. Their message of hope is timeless. Indeed, they took on a deeper meaning for me today when I passed them once again to enter the chapel, light a few candles, and pray for the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting and all who mourn and care for them.
I write out of deep concern for all in our community who are particularly touched by this act of violence, especially those who may not have the courage to come forward and seek solace. Now that the campus is quiet, this tragedy may hit some of our students especially hard since we cannot come together as a community. I hope you will find creative ways in the days ahead to embrace those most vulnerable to this act of terror: LGBTQ members of our community, students of color—especially Latina/o students—and observant Muslims among them even though most are away for the summer. Know that I hold all of you in my heart, as do so many others in this community.
In the days ahead, it is likely that this incident will be used to further the divisions in the US. That this act of terror occurred during the holy month of Ramadan and Pride month was, I believe, no accident. The purpose of terror is and always has been to induce enough fear and hatred in a community that it consumes itself from within.
Ramadan for Muslims is a time of fasting, self-examination, prayer, centering, and pilgrimage, where the faithful are expressly forbidden to do violence even in thought and word, much like Yom Kippur for Jews and Lent for many Christians. Let me say here, as a Christian, that I am no more likely to condemn Islam whole cloth on the basis of a terrorist’s distortion than I am to renounce the cross because it was distorted to terrorize my own Southern relatives. I pray that in this community of learning especially, where complexity and contradiction is readily acknowledged, we will continue to rise above the rancor of so many who lionize ignorance, seeking, rather, to deepen our understanding of one another even as we grow in compassion for each other.
Thank you for your gracious welcome to this community. As always, if there is any way my colleagues and I in the Office for Spiritual Engagement can offer hope, solace, and help to build a stronger community, feel free get in touch.
Peace and blessings,