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Interfaith Inform: January 26, 2021
Kaufman Interfaith Institute

www.interfaithunderstanding.org

Interfaith Insight
Doug Kindschi
Director, Kaufman Interfaith Institute
A time for healing – finding amazing grace

Last week included a very moving ceremony in Washington, D.C. remembering the over 400,000 lives lost in less than a year due to the COVID virus.  The evening prior to the inauguration, the president-elect and vice president-elect stood in front of the reflecting pond outside of the Lincoln Memorial to recognize those who have died because of the virus. Four hundred pillars of light reflected into the water as we were asked to reflect on this terrible loss of lives.  It is hard to grasp the enormity of the impact of the pandemic.  More American lives have been lost to COVID in the past 10 months than in the four years of the U.S. involvement in World War II. Daily deaths of 3,000 to 4,000 are equivalent to 10 or more 737s crashing every day.  Yes, we need healing for our bodies!

The event between the Lincoln Memorial and the reflecting pond began with a message from Cardinal Wilton Gregory, archbishop of Washington and first African American to be elevated to rank of cardinal. He began, "At this twilight hour, our beloved nation pauses to remember and to pray for the many thousands of people who have died from the coronavirus in this past year. … This virus, more than taking the lives of too many of our citizens as well as people around the globe, has left in its wake a sobering awareness that we are all united in the sorrow that we recognize today."

He prayed also for the families and relatives “who had to surrender their loved ones without the comfort and the consolation ritual of a funeral." Cardinal Gregory continued expressing gratitude for those who have cared for those stricken with the virus and for their families, saying “our sorrow unites us to one another as single people with compassionate hearts.  May our prayers strengthen our awareness of our common humanity and national unity.”

One of those who has cared for the patients and families is a nurse from near Detroit who would often sing between shifts on the hospital floor in the COVID unit. Lori Marie Key was introduced to sing the same song she frequently sang in the hospital, “Amazing Grace.”

"Working as a COVID nurse was heartbreaking," Key said before singing. "It was heartbreaking for the patients who are sick, it was heartbreaking for the families who couldn't be there with them, and it was heartbreaking for those caring for them.”

"But when I'm at work, I sing," Key added. "It gives me strength during difficult times and I believe it helps heal." Yes, we need healing for our bodies, for families and loved ones, and for those caring for them.

The song she sang has a long history going back to the 1700s when the Englishman, atheist, and slave trader John Newton found faith after surviving a storm at sea. He became an Anglican priest and vocal abolitionist as well as one who wrote some 280 hymns in addition to “Amazing Grace.” It has become a standard at funerals and memorials, including the moving version sung by former President Barack Obama at the 2015 memorial service honoring those killed in the African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston, SC. He wasn’t the first president to turn to this hymn at critical times in our history. President Jimmy Carter joined with Willie Nelson to sing it. President Ronald Reagan’s funeral included a performance, and it was played on a single bagpipe at President Gerald Ford’s funeral.

The loss of lives to this deadly virus also occurs at a time of another kind of virus, that of political division. While we mourn the 400,000 lives lost, Washington, D.C. was locked down because of the polarization that just two weeks earlier had led to the violent assault on the Capitol Building with further loss of life. Yes, we need healing for the political polarization!

The Kaufman Interfaith Institute earlier anounced the “2021—Year of Interfaith Healing.”  Our mission is to promote interfaith understanding and acceptance. An important aspect of the effort is working together beyond just understanding to addressing common problems in our broken world.  The Jewish concept of “tikkun olam,” or “repairing the world,” is a call to be active participants in righting the wrongs and healing the problems that we face in our world.  It is also important in other religions as well. In the Christian Gospels, Jesus, in a parable, calls his followers to bring healing by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting those in prison, and welcoming the stranger.  (Matthew 25)

During our Year of Interfaith Healing we will also address the topics of healing our earth and healing our racial disparity.  All of these issues are connected and are exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. 

Coming up next month we are working on two connected events in collaboration with the Office of Vice Provost for Health at Grand Valley State University. In the afternoon of Feb. 22, the West Michigan Medical Ethics Conference theme is “Waiting for a Miracle: The Role of Religion in a Patient's Decision-Making.”  The conference begins at 2 p.m. and includes presentations by ethicists, spiritual care professionals, and an interfaith panel. 

That same evening, the DeVos Medical Ethics Colloquy session begins at 6 p.m. with the theme, “The Role of Religion in Health Care.” The featured speakers include Ana S. Iltis, Ph.D., director of the Center for Bioethics, Health and Society at Wake Forest University; and Ryan Nash, M.D., director of the Center for Bioethics at Ohio State University. Following each presentation will be a time for questions and responses. Further information for registration for one or both of these events can be obtained at www.InterfaithUnderstanding.org. 

As we proceed through this Year of Healing, let us each find ways to demonstrate the amazing grace that brings us to caring for our fellow human beings.

interfaith@gvsu.edu

Coming Soon:

Kaufman Interfaith Health & Religion
Monday, February 22

These weekly Insights are published in the Grand Rapids Press'  Religion section every Thursday.

For an archive of previous articles,
click here.