A time for thanks and giving: A message from 5 spiritual leaders

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  • Rabbi Riqi Kosovske is from the Beit Ahavah Reform Synagogue of Greater Northampton, Florence. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Rabbi Riqi Kosovske of the Beit Ahavah Reform Synagogue of Greater Northampton, Florence. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Rabbi Riqi Kosovske is from the Beit Ahavah Reform Synagogue of Greater Northampton, Florence. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • The Rev. Todd Weir at First Churches in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • The Rev. Todd Weir at First Churches in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • The Rev. Todd Weir at First Churches in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • The Rev. Janet Bush is the minister of the Unitarian Society of Northampton and Florence. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • The Rev. Janet Bush is the minister of the Unitarian Society of Northampton and Florence. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Mohammad Saleem Bajwa of South Hadley is a physician and lay member of the Islamic Society of Western Massachusetts. Photographed at his Holyoke office on Tuesday, Nov. 24. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Mohammad Saleem Bajwa of South Hadley is a physician and lay member of the Islamic Society of Western Massachusetts. Photographed at his Holyoke office on Tuesday, Nov. 24. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Mohammad Saleem Bajwa of South Hadley is a physician and lay member of the Islamic Society of Western Massachusetts. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Sister Clare Carter of the Nipponzan Myohoji Buddhist Order sits amid the prayer flags in the rock garden of the New England Peace Pagoda in Leverett on Wednesday, Nov. 25. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Sister Clare Carter of the Nipponzan Myohoji Buddhist Order sits amid the prayer flags in the rock garden of the New England Peace Pagoda in Leverett. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Sister Clare Carter of the Nipponzan Myohoji Buddhist Order sits amid the prayer flags in the rock garden of the New England Peace Pagoda in Leverett on Wednesday, Nov. 25. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Published: 11/27/2020 5:51:37 PM

Editor’s note: The Gazette asked five spiritual leaders in the Valley to reflect on Thanksgiving and offer messages of hope in a trying year. Here are their responses.

The Rev. Janet Bush

“Enter, rejoice and come in! Open your hearts everyone, don’t be afraid of some change, and open your ears to the song.”

Those are lines from a favorite hymn we sing often in our congregation. “Enter, rejoice and come in” is a perfect welcome line. And we know that our rejoicing this season is tinged with loneliness and sadness, as we must substitute FaceTime and Zoom for opening our doors to family and friends and offering handshakes and hugs.

“Open your hearts, everyone.” We are called, more than ever, to open our hearts. To be kind to and generous with one another. To share our bounty with our neighbors. To laugh and listen and let each other see our tears.

“Don’t be afraid of some change.” Many of us look forward to changes in the new year. We hope for efforts at mending the divisions among us. We hope for greater civility, and for renewed, sustained attention to climate change and racial justice. We hope for a vaccine available to everyone, as soon as possible.

“Open your ears to the song.” We are called to ask — whose song? And to listen more intently to all voices, all songs. Songs of joy and of lament. Songs of protest and of healing. And we can lift our voices and sing. Outside, safely. Imagining all the voices joining in.

Singing helps me remember all that makes me grateful. I am grateful to live in this community. Grateful for all who are willing to let their hearts open wider. I am grateful and confident that we will be able to face this winter together, with goodwill and with hope.

The Rev. Janet Bush is Minister of the Unitarian Society of Northampton and Florence.

Mohammad Saleem Bajwa

In Islam, we are taught to be thankful to the one who deserves our thanks, the one and only one God/Allah, who is the creator and cherisher of all humanity, and all that exists in the universe. Indeed, the bounties of God, the almighty, are so many that we cannot even count.

God says in the Quraan, “And if you count the Favors of God, never would you be able to count them. Certainly God is Oft-Forgiving and Most Merciful.” (15:18)

Thankgiving has two components, THANKS AND GIVING.

Our daily prayers, fasting in the month of Ramadan, paying charity “Zakat,” in fact all acts of worship, are for this purpose, “To express Thanks to our Creator.”

The other limb of the equation is Giving, which is more liked by God/Allah.

Giving to the poor, to the needy among the neighbors and the community members in need. Thus in the month of Ramadan (the month of fasting) our celebration of the Holiday called Eid, will not be valid unless we have given 2.5% of our savings in charity, and unless we have provided food and gifts to the needy families in the community.

Thanksgiving is meant to be on a daily basis and at every moment, but to do it during a specified time in the year is also wonderful. We do celebrate Thanksgiving Holiday, with the same spirit, and also for the opportunity for the families and friends get together and have a joyful time together.

This year the celebration and festivities are dampened by the COVID-19 pandemic. We will use this opportunity to get together physically or virtually and offer collective prayers for relief from this calamity, and for the well-being of whole humanity.

We live with hope in the infinite power of almighty God/Allah, who is most merciful and compassionate.

We are told in Quraan “Despair not of the Mercy of ALLAH. Certainly Allah, is Oft- Forgiving and Merciful” (39:53)

We can count the blessings, even in this season of suffering.

As a result of pandemic, there is a much increased sense of empathy. There is a heightened spirit of service. Consider the hard work and sacrifices by the front-line health care providers, and lots of community service being provided by diverse groups and organizations.

There is a collective race to find a cure and winning the war against this treacherous invisible creature “the coronavirus.” We are seeing the rays of hope in the prospect of a vaccine.

We are seeing virtual meetings and online learning opportunities brought by fast-moving technology, becoming a new way of life.

God says in the Quraan, “Verily with every hardship, there is ease.”

We pray with all our humility to God Almighty, to forgive us, be merciful to us and provide us relief from this calamity.

And may everyone have a joyful Thanksgiving.

Mohammad Saleem Bajwa, MD, is a practicing physician at Holyoke Medical Center as a pulmonologist. He is one of the founding members of the Islamic Society of Western Mass., and a religious leader and interfaith coordinator of The Islamic Society.

The Rev. Todd Weir

Most religions have a sacred season as the earth enters the furthest orbit from the sun. We light candles to brighten the empty corners of our hearts. Evergreen decorations come indoors to mark life’s continuity as we sense sunlight ebbing away. Rituals fortify us for short days and long nights and express our anticipation during the calendar’s midnight.

For Christians, we enter Advent, a season of longing and desiring change. Our favorite hymns tell us to be watchers in the night and call upon God to be present and known to us. I hold off the Christmas rush as long as possible, so we can listen and be attentive to this moment.

Hope needs this space during the long nights. Hope is more than being positive or optimistic; it is longing for change. Hope is not for the faint of heart as we pay attention to the pain points of suffering and injustice. During our pandemics of COVID, climate change, and racism, we need dreams and visions of what could be. Whatever your beliefs, may you find the space to sense new possibilities. The earth will slowly arc back to the sun, and we will anticipate the soul-strength we need for healing and justice.

The Rev. Todd Weir is co-pastor of First Churches of Northampton.

Sister Clare Carter

Each morning after we circumambulate the Peace Pagoda, we face toward the sunrise and pray. We then face toward the community at large, focusing our heart and mind on the shared welfare of all the people, of the ever-giving Earth.

We pray for all the people, all the life. The existence and fate of all of us in interrelated. We hold so much gratitude to the whole community which, together, creates an energy of “taking care.” Like a wondrous, sacred arc which holds us all together.

As monks, we understand that our lives are directly sustained by the great goodness of others. Each person alive is sacred, without exception. This natural world in its entirety is an expression of the divine source of life.

COVID may seem to drive us apart, but as we take time to be in touch with that sacred place within us (all), we find the power to come more closely together than ever before, facing challenges with confidence and compassion.

Closing with our prayer for inseparable peace within our hearts and minds and within our community/world. Na Mu Myo Ho Ren Ge Kyo.

Sister Clare Carter is a Buddhist nun practicing at the Peace Pagoda in Leverett since the time of its construction, 1984.

Rabbi Riqi Kosovske

Earlier this week I was making space in my freezer and pulled out a frozen challah, the braided soft Sabbath bread that, in my Jewish community, is blessed with all of our hands touching the challah or someone who is touching the challah. I was overcome with longing to be back holding that challah in a starburst of community singing the blessing wreathed in smiles, before we joyously pulled it apart.

Also earlier this week, I watched with wonder, and tears, as President-elect Biden announced his cabinet. Over and over I watched the acceptance speeches. I was especially moved at Alejandro Mayorkas, named as the next Secretary of Homeland Security. Himself a refugee from Castro’s Cuba as a child, a Latino Jewish American, whose mother fled Romania as a Holocaust survivor to Cuba where she met his father.

And painfully on the same day, ICE expelled 33 unaccompanied refugee children on a flight to Guatemala City, some positive with COVID, even though a judge had just ruled the deportation illegal. But now here was Mayorkas, who serves as a HIAS board member, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society that is one of the U.S. agencies authorized to sponsor refugees and asylum-seekers — like my Jewish great-grandparents.

Watching Mayorkas, I had a momentary feeling that perhaps this was what it felt like emerging from Noah’s Ark to see a patch of dry land, or to see the dove return with the olive branch signifying there was new life, somewhere, and the waters just might recede, after only seeing light from the small window to the sky for so long, and that a second chance was upon us as humanity, as a nation, to set things right, to heal, to honor those who have fought, travailed or died by bringing their light in to the world for healing and repair.

We have been struggling to see the light and the hope in these times. Let us use this time to fuel and ignite the passionate light within, which we each desperately will need to kindle love, to make the world a healing place. We have to, because that is the only choice, to choose life, light and love. And while I cannot wait to have all our hands on warm challah again and to pull it apart joining hands, to break bread together, I know our light and warmth will get us through.

Rabbi Riqi Kosovske is from the Beit Ahavah Reform Synagogue of Greater Northampton, Florence.



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