Hudspeth: Remembrance has been on both the national level and locally

Stephen Hudspeth

Stephen Hudspeth

Staff / Hearst Connecticut Media

Over the last 30 days we’ve passed from violent takeover of our nation’s Capitol to inauguration of our new President to remembrance of the lives of the over 400,000 Americans lost to COVID-19.

That remembrance has been on both the national level and locally here in Wilton with separate services led by the Wilton Clergy Association and the Wilton Quaker Meeting.

Each service was powerful in its own way: The Quakers’ service offered extended quiet time for reflection in silent prayer for those lost to COVID and prayer that these turbulent times that are so challenging and so draining can yet become filled with peace. The Wilton Clergy Association’s service encompassed moving prayers, reflections and singing. It called upon us to have homes that are havens of peace, and in the words of Our Lady of Fatima’s Father Reggie Norman, “to receive stories of those different from ourselves .. to have the courage to have difficult conversations that challenge us, including about race, as we need to be challenged to reach beyond ourselves and build lasting community.”

But how do we do that? First, we have to be willing to try, recognizing that often the first step is the most difficult and that even after we take that first step, our continuing steps may falter but we must not lose the will to keep trying. Most of all, we have to be ready to listen -- to hear and try to really comprehend how and why others are suffering and then to be active “instruments of peace.”

Those three quoted words come from the Prayer of St. Francis that was recited at both services. It begins, “Lord makes me an instrument of your peace: where there is hatred let me sow love; …where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.”

As Cantor Harriet Dunkerley of Temple B’nai Chaim sang beautifully from the text of a prayer authored by the late Rabbi Chaim Stern, “Let there be love and understanding among us; let peace and friendship be our shelter from life’s storms. Guide us to life renewed; spread over us your shelter of peace.” And Wilton Presbyterian Church’s Pastor Shannon White reminded us to actually seek to speak with people with whom we disagree.

In almost 34 years of living here, I’ve found Wiltonians very good at doing that. Political leadership over many years has appeared especially skilled at reaching across the aisle, and state law requirements mandating “other party” representation on town boards certainly serve to advance that objective. However, the sense of working together seems to have been strong here for a long time without the need for that requirement.

What we’ve learned over the last month is that the noble and long-lasting experiment in democracy that is America is a lot more fragile that most of us imagined. What we’ve also learned is that the things that seem to divide us are both more deep-seated and more widespread than many of us had appreciated.

Justice and peace go hand in hand, as our religious traditions remind us. The Hebrew Bible’s ancient yet timeless injunction is to welcome the stranger, the foreigner, the widow, the orphan - indeed all of those in need. And its injunction extends to the very specific, exemplified by the biblical instruction (fitting for its time) not to cut one’s entire field so that those in need may gather from the uncut margins to nourish themselves.

Likewise, one of the five pillars of Islam reminds us of our obligation to care for those in need, and as Wilton Baptist Church’s Pastor Caroline Smith noted, the Hebrew Bible’s prophet Micah proclaimed that doing justice and loving kindness are a requirement for walking with God. And in Jesus’ words, when you act to aid those in need you are doing it “to me.”

The message is consistent across faiths just as it is affirmingly life-giving: listen to, and care for, those in need. The Wilton Islamic Congregation’s Dr. Golnar Raissi led prayer both for healthcare and other essential workers and for those most impacted by COVID. Among the latter are the estimated 8 million more Americans who have fallen into poverty during the pandemic.

Can we live out this message? That has to start at the most local level possible: with each of us. That’s what makes life worth living even as it also provides the foundation on which our democracy -- and peace across all of our lives -- rests.