Friday, 29 January 2010

Holocaust Memorial Service - True prayer is a song

Margarete Kampa is a member of the Ashendon home group and also a member of the Council of Christians and Jews, the UKs oldest interfaith organisation. Originally from Silesia in Poland, she joined with many others in Keble College on Sunday 24th January 2010 for the Holocaust Memorial Service. There were stories, poems, prayers, readings, candles lit and hymns sung. Margarete in particular wanted me to share this reflection from the Chaplain on Psalm 137:

Psalm 137, I find, is the most moving of all the psalms. It's difficult to hear it without being stirred by it. After the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BCE, the Israelites were taken into exile in Babylon. This psalm reflects the pain and anguish of those Israelites in Babylonian exile and their yearning for their homeland: "By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept when we remembered you, O Zion" (v1)

Their anguish and despair are expressed in their inability to sing and make music: "As for our harps, we hung them up on the trees in the midst of the land" (v2). To sing and make music is universal in all human cultures and is an essential part of what it means to be human. The human capacity to sing and make music is deeply connected to the sense of hope in the depth of human soul. The inability to sing and make music reflects utter despair and angush.

Their humiliation is hauntingly expressed in the following two lines: "For there our captors required of us songs, and our tormentors, mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” How shall we sing the Lord's song upon an alien soil?" One can feel the cruelty of the Babylonians who humiliated their enslaved Israelites by making fun and demanding songs from them in spite of their suffering.

Then comes and amazing spiritual transformation in the Psalm: "If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill. Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy" (vv5-6). The resolve never to forget Jerusalem which is even higher than the highest joy is what enables them to turn their pain and sorrow into song and music.

Remembrance is at the heart of prayer and song is the highest form of prayer. Prayer is remembering God in our lives and remembering ourselves in God's love. When faced with pain and sorrow, first comes a cry of anguish and even of anger. When no more voice is left and the tears have dried up, there comes a silence, a sheer silence of dismay and despair. How to turn such sorrow and despair into song is at the heart of the life of prayer. True prayer is a song.

Prayer for the Victims of Holocaust:

O merciful God, who dwells on high, grant perfect peace beneath the shelter of your divine presence, where the pure and holy shine brightly in the firmament, to the souls of our brothers and sisters whose blood was spilt like water and who perished beneath the furious onslaught of the Nazi in the countries of their domination. We ask you, Lord of Compassion, to shelter them for ever beneath the cover of your wings, and may their souls be brought into the bond of eternal life. The Lord is their inheritance. May they rest in peace, And let us say: Amen

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