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Chaplain's corner: Sending love to our Muslim members and staff
Dearest YMCA members, staff, and community,
On Saturday, I attended a vigil in support of Austin's Muslim community and in collective mourning for the mass shooting of Muslims in Christchurch, New Zealand. Even with quick planning in the midst of Spring Break and SXSW, there were nearly 400 people there -- an overflow crowd that lined the walls, spilled into the choir loft, and filled the foyer of St. James Episcopal Church in East Austin. The gathering was sponsored by Muslim Space, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Nueces Mosque, and Interfaith Action of Central Texas.
Members of the Muslim community expressed their gratitude for people of all religions and no religion, showing up in solidarity. We held the huge grief of this time together, as a community. As always in moments like these, I saw YMCA members there.
To the Muslims on our YMCA staff and in our community: Your YMCA colleagues and fellow Y members love you and are with you in this difficult time. Our community is better because you are part of it. You belong here. Our hearts are with you.
At Saturday's vigil, Muslims took time to pray while the rest of us held silence in honor of them and the resilience it takes to keep your faith and spiritual practices in the face of such violence. A chime was rung 50 times, once for every death that had been confirmed as of Saturday. Another 50 people were still injured, and we prayed and held out hope together for their recovery. This was the first slide as we began the service:
I have been your YMCA interfaith chaplain for less than a year and a half, and heartbreakingly, this is not my first such vigil to attend on behalf of our community. Last year, I spoke at the Jewish Community Center, after a mass shooting in Pittsburgh. Yet there are no words to fully express the grief over such inhumane loss of life. One of the victims in Christchurch was three years old. Another victim, Daoud Nabi, greeted his attacker with the words, "Hello, brother," reminding me of the daily welcome we hear from TownLake greeter Daniel Velazquez. Is there anything more beautiful than to be embraced as part of the greater human family like that? How gut-wrenching to know such a greeting was met with bullets.
Y friends, I share these feelings with you as a kind of lament. Lamentation is a spiritual practice of naming your pain and grief. It is a time-honored way of not suffering alone -- of trusting a listener or higher power to hold that pain with you. You lament to release, so that you may find a way forward.
Leslie Jordan, a fellow YMCA director and Zumba teacher based at our East Communities branch, once reached out to me when I was in pain. Leslie, who is Muslim, sent me an adaptation of the passage Surah Al-Inshirah ayah 95 from the Holy Quran: “With every difficulty, there is relief. So, sister, prepare your heart for peace and increased love by knowing that relief from the Great Reliever is on the way.”
She called me sister. There is that language of the greater human family again.
I still hold Leslie's message close. Her sharing meant even more to me, as she offered it generously, across our different faith traditions. (I am a Unitarian Universalist, a denomination that evolved from Christianity.) I met Leslie and we became friends through the Y. Life at the Y is full of opportunities to foster and deepen relationships with people of different backgrounds than your own. Our lives are richer for it.
If you are grieving or struggling with current events or something in your own life, please remember the Y has pro bono counselors, support groups and mind-spirit programs, and the opportunity to visit with me as your chaplain, whatever your religion or none. We are "the Y for all," and we are here for you.
Some of you have asked about Pledge to Step In bystander intervention workshops, which arose in response to Islamophobic and anti-immigrant violence and harassment. These quarterly workshops will return in the late summer, after one of the volunteer leaders returns from maternity leave. Please stay tuned to your YMCA newsletter for registration.
Last but not least, I know many Y members are involved in the effort to stop hatred and end gun violence. I see you at community meetings and at the recent town hall on the topic, held at TownLake. You do this crucial, life-and-death work with love, urgency, and dedication. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.
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