Reflecting on Holy Week and Easter with Ian Fleming, James Bond and Benjamin Pratt

ENDANGERED HOLY SITES IN UKRAINE—This photograph shows the interior of St. George’s Church in western Ukraine, one of the region’s uniquely hand-crafted wooden churches. It is part of a cluster of 16 surviving wooden churches in western Ukraine and Eastern Poland that now are considered a World Heritage Site. Built in the late 1400s, St. George’s in Drohobych is one of the oldest and best-preserved timber churches of Galicia. Because Russia has targeted relatively few bombing raids on western Ukraine, this particular religious masterpiece so far has not been damaged. (NOTE: If you care to share this image of St. George’s with others, Wikimedia Commons makes this photograph by “Moahim” easy to share. You will find more photos of this church below.)

.

From Good Friday’s ‘No!’ to Easter Sunday’s ‘Yes!’

.

EDITOR’s NOTE: Over many years, author, pastor and counselor Benjamin Pratt has talked with Christian communities about the deep drama that unfolds in what Christians call Holy Week, the observances leading up to Easter. Sometimes, as in this column, he draws on illustrations from his literary research into the moral lessons in the novels of Ian Fleming.

.

By BENJAMIN PRATT
Author of Ian Fleming’s Seven Deadlier Sins

Bond, James Bond 007 was married only once. Then, in one of the most shocking turns in the course of Ian Fleming’s novels—Bond’s wife was shot and killed by Bond’s archenemy on the day of their wedding.

Bond began to lose his edge: He didn’t show up for work; he began to deal with his loss by drinking, eating too much, gambling, losing his sense of mission. His boss, M, had Bond examined by psychiatrist-neurologist Sir James Malony who reported to M that Bond was in shock, and that his behavior was quite appropriate. Then, he concluded with the startling line: “We must teach them that there is no top to disaster.”

Everyone of us has a top to disaster. As we are seeing in the ruined streets of Ukrainian cities, that trauma varies widely: the death of a child, rape, torture, loss of a home. In our own country, during this pandemic, so many of us have lost jobs and homes, suffered from life-threatening conditions from COVID to cancer.

When we go over the top of our disaster limit we are prone to reduce our world to a small, predictable, controlled safe place. Risking our talents is the last thing we are prone to do.

But, Sir James Malony says an even more remarkable thing in response to M’s request of help for Bond. His answer is We must give him an impossible job.  In contrast to our thought that he should take a month on a cruise liner, we hear that “he should be given an impossible job.”

So M sends Bond on a mission to infiltrate and destroy a castle created for people who have lost faith in life, a castle where people can kill themselves. (Bond could have been one of those who had gone to kill himself since he had lost faith. Instead he has come to risk facing and destroying it.)  The man who created this castle of death is the same devil who killed Bond’s wife. By confronting and killing the devil of despair, Bond confronts his own despair and is on the road to healing his own wounds.  (Yes, it is an allegory that is as much about the inner journey as the outer journey.)

How is this relevant to our journey toward Easter in 2022?

Christians around the world are entering Holy Week, which contains the three most important days of the Christian calendar. Holidays focus on history. That’s the way most of us approach the ancient traditions and family customs that we love to repeat each year. But, the yearlong cycle of Christian holidays are much more than that. These seasons are timeless, yet they also are very clear invitations to affirm our personal journey as God’s people.

Now, in Holy Week, everything converges in a kaleidoscope of life and death, hope and tragedy, community and isolation. In these final days before Easter, we pass through enormous sorrow and abandonment as we move toward the spectacular joy we proclaim at Easter. On Good Friday we experience the top of disaster, recalling how Jesus was tacked to a tree—his spirit broken. Holy Saturday is a long period of waiting when, some Christian traditions say, Jesus descended into Hell. Easter brings resurrection—in this life and the next.

We might think of Friday as the day of “No!” As we personally experience Good Fridays, life throws us against a rock, tacks us to a tree, devastates our innocence and dreams for our marriage, our country, our children, our lives. That “No!” breaks our spirit and almost destroys our faith in the goodness of God. On such Fridays, the pain is excruciating, and it is appropriate to be angry, enraged and in deep grief.

Saturday is “I don’t now.” We move—as Jesus’s followers did 2,000 years ago—into a soft cynicism or despair. We can’t stay in Friday’s intense pain, but we haven’t reached Easter’s joy. Saturday is the janitorial day. We can’t mourn; we can’t celebrate; we don’t sing Alleluias. So, we get up and start moving through our many tasks. Grief and anger from Friday evolves into a flat, soft, lazy, cynical bitterness, a spiritual deadness. This is life without any spice, vitality or vigor. This is spiritual accidie—a term I describe in my books on Ian Fleming and on coping with the challenges of caregiving.

And, Sunday? “YES!” We yearn for Easter, when we are reborn with new directions, new possibilities. It is the day of a clean and restored heart. We are able to sing praises and live with purpose, compassion and gratitude. The Psalmist writes: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit, not a cynical spirit, not a bitter spirit. You will not reject a humble and repentant heart, O God.” (Psalm 51)

Let me be clear what I am not saying. I am not suggesting that we get ourselves off our own hands by attending to others or a larger mission. Turning outward comes after we have done the painful interior work of feeling our loss. You may be aware that hospice will not accept volunteers who are not at least one year away from a significant death.

Eventually, the grief journey must include turning outward to heal the losses and grief in ourselves in what feels like an impossible risk.

Perhaps real recovery takes place only when we take our own wound and turn it outward to give generously and with gratitude to others.

This year, many Christian churches will be including prayers and other symbolic signs of our solidarity with the people Ukraine who continue to suffer seemingly endless cycles of violence.

Alfred Lord Tennyson said, upon the death of a close friend: “I must love myself into action lest I wither in despair.” Henri Nouwen, the late Catholic priest shared that “the wound of Jesus is like the Grand Canyon, a deep incision in the earth’s surface that has become an inexhaustible source of beauty and meaning.” The wounds of Jesus have become a source of beauty for many of us.

Our wounds may become a source of beauty and meaning for others also. The pain can end and the healing take place when we take the beauty of our own pain and extend it as a gift to others. As their hurt is healed, so is ours.

Let me illustrate by the story of a real life James Bond—a sheet metal worker named Michael Flocco. Michael and his wife had only one child. He was killed when the plane went into the Pentagon on 9/11. It was an over the top disaster experience. Michael stopped going to work, he sat at the kitchen table every morning looking at the family photo album which contained pictures of his son. He started with coffee but by lunch he was hitting hard liquor to drown his pain and grief. One day, Michael’s wife saw an ad for sheet metal workers needed to repair the Pentagon. She cut it out and placed it in the family album. That morning Michael found the ad and called his boss and told him he wanted to go to work at the Pentagon repairing the building. Michael’s choice to work repairing the very building where is son was killed must have felt like an impossible job. It became the place he began to heal his soul and recover his life.

It became a place for Easter Joy!

Exterior of St. George’s church. (Wikimedia Commons)

Interior of St. George’s church in Ukraine. (Wikimedia Commons)

.

.

Care to learn more?

Read the other related columns …

This is one of four Jewish-Christian-and-Muslim holiday columns in mid-April 2022 that include photographs of endangered holy sites in Ukraine. Here are links to all four of them:

RABBI LENORE BOHM writes Passover’s power to inspire action: This year, we will be thinking of Ukraine (the accompanying photographs shows the Brodsky Synagogue in Kyiv).

RABBI JACK RIEMER calls us to Proclaim a Passover ‘Dayenu’ that lifts up the people of Ukraine (with photos of the Kharkiv Choral Synagogue, the largest in Ukraine).

MARKING RAMADAN, Victor Begg reminds us that All of Our Faiths Call on us to be Peacemakers (with photos of the Al-Salam Mosque in Odessa).

REFLECTING ON HOLY WEEK and EASTER, Benjamin Pratt draws on illustrations from Ian Fleming’s Seven Deadlier Sins and 007’s Moral Compass (with St. George’s church in western Ukraine).

And for more on Benjamin Pratt …

VISIT BENJAMIN PRATT’S AMAZON PAGE: Go to his author page and you’ll learn more about him, plus you’ll see links to three of his books.

Get a copy of Ian Fleming’s Seven Deadlier Sins and 007’s Moral Compass from Amazon.

Benjamin Pratt writes: “I have been bewildered by the staying power of the traditional Seven Deadly Sins: Pride, envy, anger, sloth, covetousness, gluttony and lust. It was not until I began reading and studying Fleming’s ‘Bond, James Bond,’ that I was convinced that Bond was a knight out to slay these contemporary dragons threatening our lives. All of Fleming’s 007 tales follow a common theme that he identified in his first Bond novel, Casino Royale, as parables about evil people. Fleming’s stories have considerable mythological, allegorical and theological depth that are compelling to this day. Fleming found most of the traditional Seven Deadly Sins to be closer to virtues in contemporary culture.

While an editor on the staff of the Sunday Times, Fleming suggested the famous London-based newspaper publish a series of essays on the traditional Seven Deadly Sins. Fleming later saw that this collection of essays was published as a now out-of-print book called simply, The Seven Deadly Sins. In his Foreword to that volume, Fleming lays out seven modern deadlier sins, a list that turns out to be a roadmap to his overarching intention for writing the James Bond novels. Fleming’s modern sins that will send people to Hell are: Avarice, Cruelty, Snobbery, Hypocrisy, Self-righteousness, Moral Cowardice and Malice.

.

Reflection on Ramadan: Victor Begg reminds us that all of our faiths call on us to be peacemakers

ENDANGERED HOLY SITES IN UKRAINE—This is the current Al-Salam mosque and cultural center in Odessa in southern Ukraine. Muslims in Odessa are especially anxious about Russian attacks in this region, because many families recall the 20th century devastation during Soviet religious oppression across the USSR. For many centuries, Odessa has had a prominent Muslim community. However, Soviet officials ordered the demolition of the landmark Odessa mosque and even destroyed a nearby Muslim cemetery. After the breakup of the USSR, this current mosque and cultural center was completed in 2001. So far, it has not been damaged by recent Russian shelling across Ukraine. (Note: This photo by “Pyhpyh” can be shared via Wikimedia Commons. More photos are below.)

.

By VICTOR BEGG
Author of Our Muslim Neighbors

As families gather during Lent, Passover and Ramadan, our three Abrahamic faiths remind us of our responsibility for each other and for our world.

What brought these religious observances together? And what is the significance of it?

The answer to the first question lies in the lunar cycles that play an important role in our ancient traditions. At the time of Jesus and the biblical prophets, people followed a lunar calendar, not a solar calendar. Dates changed each year due to the monthly phases of the moon. Because lunar calendars result in a 354-day year, Judaism and Christianity developed ways to adjust their calendars to keep holidays and festivals in the same seasons each year. However, Ramadan always is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar and Islamic tradition does not “correct” the lunar cycles—so the fasting month moves “earlier” by about 11 days each year.

That’s why, after coinciding with Passover and Easter this year and again in 2023, this convergence won’t happen again for about 30 years!

Then, what is the significance as these three observances coincide?

First, pausing to think about these movements of our calendars is a reminder of how much our faiths share. All three holiday observances are calculated, in part, by cycles of the moon.

And there’s so much more. We live in religiously diverse communities in which all three of our faiths are calling us, this month, to ask ourselves: How can the spirit of our holy seasons manifest in peaceful neighborhoods and beyond to a global spring of peace? We face strife and divisions in America and around the world. How can we transfer the moral lessons of moderation, repentance and self-denial into actions that lessen conflict?

Fasting is a pillar of faith that naturally brings humility and peace in human behaviors. All three faiths have traditional periods of fasting. While most American Christians do not practice fasting during Lent, these days—Eastern Orthodox Christians still observe a 40-day Fast of Great Lent, when observant Orthodox Christians deny themselves many foods.

There is timeless wisdom in this practice of fasting that leaves less energy to foster violence and aggression—a much-needed grace in this increasingly violent era. Refraining from food for a period also reminds those who are blessed with refrigerators full of food of those who lack basic sustenance.

Many Christians will see in the suffering of Jesus a reminder to be more concerned for the suffering of people in today’s world. Jesus fed the hungry. Muslims observe an entire month of fasting to seek God consciousness, together with another pillar of our faith that ordains giving zakat or alms—an act that naturally helps us to identify with the hungry and the poor. At Passover, Jews recite “Let all who are hungry come and eat” to welcome strangers to their Seder and provide food for anybody in need.

This month is a reminder to all of us that we bear a responsibility for the millions around the world facing malnutrition and starvation.

The knowledge that our faiths have such common religious values should be an impetus to work together to address this global need.

Today, more clergy are committed to inter-religious cooperation, because we have a better understanding of changing demographics. Many of today’s American families include more than one religion. A Pew Research study highlights: “One-in-five U.S. adults were raised in interfaith homes.” The same research shows there’s little discord in multi-faith families and millennials are more likely to have been raised in households with mixed religious identities. This trend will only continue with the changing landscape of America.

The recognition that we share this holy time makes America stand out among the nations of the world—more than an economic and military power. It is the idea of our Founding Fathers: “One Nation Under God.”

Interior of the Al-Salam mosque and cultural center in Odessa. (Wikimedia Commons)

Interior of Al-Salam mosque and cultural center in Odessa. (Wikimedia Commons)

.

.

Care to learn more?

Read the other related columns …

This is one of four Jewish-Christian-and-Muslim holiday columns in mid-April 2022 that include photographs of endangered holy sites in Ukraine. Here are links to all four of them:

RABBI LENORE BOHM writes Passover’s power to inspire action: This year, we will be thinking of Ukraine (the accompanying photographs shows the Brodsky Synagogue in Kyiv).

RABBI JACK RIEMER calls us to Proclaim a Passover ‘Dayenu’ that lifts up the people of Ukraine (with photos of the Kharkiv Choral Synagogue, the largest in Ukraine).

MARKING RAMADAN, Victor Begg reminds us that All of Our Faiths Call on us to be Peacemakers (with photos of the Al-Salam Mosque in Odessa).

REFLECTING ON HOLY WEEK and EASTER, Benjamin Pratt draws on illustrations from Ian Fleming’s Seven Deadlier Sins and 007’s Moral Compass (with St. George’s church in western Ukraine).

And for more on Victor Begg …

VISIT VICTOR BEGG’s WEBSITE: Go to OurMuslimNeighbors.com to find more information about Victor Begg’s ongoing work.

Get a copy of his book ‘Our Muslim Neighbors.’ The book is available on Amazon in hardcover, paperback, Kindle and audio—as well as from other online and independent bookstores.

The American Dream is alive and well in this memoir of a Muslim immigrant from India who arrived planning to start a business, working so hard toward his personal goals that he even pumped gas and sold vacuum cleaners door to door. Victor Begg successfully built a thriving, regional chain of furniture stores. Along the way, he discovered that America’s greatest promise lies in building healthy communities with our neighbors.

“In one book, I have come to understand much more about Islam, its followers and its teachings,” Rabbi Bruce Benson writes in the book’s Foreword. “I’ve come to realize that the challenges Muslim immigrants have faced are similar to what Jews and many other immigrant groups have experienced as they tried to settle in America. By the end of this book, I hurt with Victor and I laugh with him, because—as Americans—we share so much. We are him. His journey is our journey. This is our story.”

.

.

Reflecting on Passover with Rabbi Jack Riemer: Proclaim a ‘Dayenu’ that lifts up the people of Ukraine

ENDANGERED HOLY SITES IN UKRAINE—So far, Russian attacks in Ukraine have not hit the Kharkiv Choral Synagogue, the largest synagogue in Ukraine. The building is an architectural landmark because it was designed in 1909 with the intention of including visual elements reflecting Jewish, Christian and Islamic cultures of Palestine. Because of the building’s enormous size—138 feet tall at the dome with a total footprint of 22,250 square feet—the building’s Soviet-era uses included as a cinema and a sports complex. When the building was returned to the Jewish community in 1990, it once again became a center of Jewish life in Kharkiv. Many Christian Ukrainian leaders have visited this synagogue to show solidarity with the Jewish community. (Note: This photo by Adam Jones can be shared via Wikimedia Commons. You can see more photographs below.)

.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Rabbi Jack Riemer often is referred to as a “dean of preachers” among Jewish clergy, because he has taught and mentored so many of his colleagues. This year, he sent out a special adaptation of the popular Passover song Dayenu, which includes a focus on Ukraine. If you feel so moved, Rabbi Riemer welcomes readers to share this text with others.

.

A Dayenu for Our Time: ‘If we only …’

By RABBI JACK RIEMER
Author of  Finding God in Unexpected Places

Dayenu is a spirited song that is a highlight of the Passover Seder. The word itself refers to the phrase, “It would have been enough …” and expresses heartfelt gratitude for the many ways God protected the Jewish people during the Exodus. Shown here is a haggadah, a guide to the Seder, created in Germany in about 1300. This illustrated manuscript is open to the text of Dayenu. (Note: You can share this photo via Wikimedia Commons.)

If we only saw the courage with which the people of Ukraine are fighting for their country and their freedom—it would be enough to make us admire them;

If we only saw the kindness with which so many people in Europe and Israel and elsewhere have opened their hearts and their homes to the refugees from Ukraine it would have been enough to make us stand in awe;

If we only saw the wonder that Ukraine, which was once so antisemitic, is now led by a Jew who has become the moral voice of the world—it would have been enough to make us proud;

But so long as the cities of this land lie in rubble, and so long as its people must take shelter in subway stations and so long as their maternity hospitals and their movie theaters are considered targets for the enemy’s missiles, and so long as so many of its people live without food or water or heat—it is not enough for us to take pride in their achievements or to sit back and watch their suffering but we must send medical equipment and food and funds and we must do whatever else we can in order to help them;

And if we only saw the bravery of the young Russian woman who went into a television station in Moscow during a news broadcast and held up a sign that said, ‘THIS IS NOT TRUE’—how impressed we would be.

But since we see all of these things every day, we must not turn away from watching the news because it is too painful and we must not hide our eyes from what is going on but instead we must work and pray and cry out and do whatever else we can—and if we don’t?

Then the sanity of humanity will be lost.

If we only saw the calm and quiet dignity with which Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson responded to the crude and rude questions that she was subjected to at her Senate hearing—we would feel proud;

And if we only have the ability to choose our channels or to turn off our television sets whenever our leaders lie to us and whenever they tell falsehoods that seek to divide us—how fortunate we are;

And when we are hesitant to be with our families or our friends because of the fear that we may endanger them or that they may endanger us—how blessed we are that we have vaccines that can protect us for these medicines did not exist just a few years ago;

And when we are confined to our homes for days that turn into weeks and weeks that turn into months, how blessed we are that we have homes—unlike so many people in this land who are homeless—and how blessed we are that we can work from home, and that we can be with our loved ones at home;

But until those who live under bridges and in their cars and on the streets have homes, and until those who do not have the vaccines that we do, can get them—it is not enough to just be thankful for what we have but we must do whatever we can to enable others to have the blessings that we take for granted.

And when we miss our grandchildren and wish that we could hug them and kiss them without endangering them—let us be grateful that we can at least see them and speak to them and listen to them on Zoom or on livestream, for this is the next best thing to being with them, and these things did not exist just a few years ago;

For all these things, let us be grateful tonight and let us express our gratitude by belting out the song Dayenu with a whole and a happy heart;

But let us also be aware of how much there is still left for us to do in order to bring close the day when these blessings will be the possession or all those who live on earth.

For now we know that we are one related, interdependent human race, for what we breathe in—our neighbors breathe out; and what they breathe out—we breathe in.

And therefore, we are bound up with each other and we must learn to live together as partners.

Exterior of the Kharkiv synagogue. (Wikimedia Commons)

 

Interior of Kharkiv synagogue. (Wikimedia Commons)

.

.

Care to learn more?

Read the other related columns …

This is one of four Jewish-Christian-and-Muslim holiday columns in mid-April 2022 that include photographs of endangered holy sites in Ukraine. Here are links to all four of them:

RABBI LENORE BOHM writes Passover’s power to inspire action: This year, we will be thinking of Ukraine (the accompanying photographs shows the Brodsky Synagogue in Kyiv).

RABBI JACK RIEMER calls us to Proclaim a Passover ‘Dayenu’ that lifts up the people of Ukraine (with photos of the Kharkiv Choral Synagogue, the largest in Ukraine).

MARKING RAMADAN, Victor Begg reminds us that All of Our Faiths Call on us to be Peacemakers (with photos of the Al-Salam Mosque in Odessa).

REFLECTING ON HOLY WEEK and EASTER, Benjamin Pratt draws on illustrations from Ian Fleming’s Seven Deadlier Sins and 007’s Moral Compass (with St. George’s church in western Ukraine).

And for more on Rabbi Jack Riemer …

FOR MORE HOLIDAY STORIES from Rabbi Riemer, get a copy of his book Finding God in Unexpected Places. In endorsing his book, Dr. Bernie Siegel, best-selling author of a dozen books about spirituality and healing, tells readers: “Rabbi Riemer offers us the kind of wisdom that we need in order to survive and thrive.”

The late Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel adds, “Jack Riemer’s words are songs of hope and faith. Listen to them as I do.”

What do a professional baseball player, Elizabeth Taylor’s jewelry box, a hurricane, a garbage dump and a blue blazer hanging in your closet have to do with each other? They’re all turning points in Riemer’s stories that lead us toward universal questions we all confront at some point in life, including:

Is there a dream that gives meaning to your life? What are our duties to the people we love? How do you make a decision when you’re caught between two conflicting values? And, what would you do if you found out that your time on this earth was almost up?

Reflecting on Riemer’s wisdom about life, retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor writes that the rabbi “is obviously a person with much understanding of the human situation.”

.

.

.

Passover’s power to inspire action: This year, we will be thinking of Ukraine

ENDANGERED HOLY SITES IN UKRAINE—So far, Russian bombardment has not damaged the landmark Brodsky Synagogue in Kyiv. In 1898, government officials and leading citizens of the region, most of whom were Christian, helped the Jewish community of Kyiv celebrate the opening of this new synagogue. Then—three decades later under Soviet attempts to wipe out religious communities—the building was turned into a school, a military facility and later a puppet theater. Many of the building’s religious ornaments were removed in the Soviet attempt to erase its original purpose. After the collapse of the USSR, the Jewish community reclaimed the building in the early 1990s, starting with a celebration of Hanukkah. (Note: This photo of the Brodsky Synagogue by “Thez” can be shared via Wikimedia Commons. You’ll find more photos below.)

.

‘The most widely celebrated Jewish holiday’

By RABBI LENORE BOHM
Author of Torah Tutor

This photograph of a seder plate can be shared via Wikimedia Commons.

Some people love the familiarity of repeated rituals, each detail remembered from years’ past. Others prefer innovation: Make it new! Make it different!

The Passover Seder experience encourages both. It “wouldn’t be a Seder” without certain foods—matzah, horseradish, parsley—and family recipes. It “wouldn’t be a Seder” without certain songs, certain jokes and jabs, certain candlesticks and kiddush cups.

But each year’s Seder provides an opportunity to connect history with current events. Recently, I’ve conducted Seders that highlighted the growing presence of diverse sexualities and family constellations within our community. Decades ago, I conducted Seders that focused on Soviet Jews who were forbidden to emigrate to Israel. Those were called “Let My People Go” Seders.

I have been part of many women’s Seders that draw attention to the under-acknowledged women that make Jewish holidays, nay—Jewish life—possible. A Miriam’s Cup stands alongside the traditional Elijah’s Cup. An orange, representing the inclusion of all heretofore absent or underserved participants, finds a place on the Seder plate.

‘This year … thinking of Ukraine …’

This year, I will place a Ukrainian flag on the Seder plate. It’s a statement of solidarity with a people in desperate straits.

It will be impossible to begin the Seder meal with the words, “Let all who are hungry, come and eat,” without thinking of those citizens in Ukraine’s bombed-out cities who have limited or no access to food or water. This year, it will be impossible to read the paragraph about how the Israelites fled in the middle of the night so as to evade Pharaoh’s armies, without thinking of the traumatized women and children and elderly who await a lull in the shelling to make their way to a bus to take them (with nothing but their clothes and small carry-bags), to a place where they can breathe and sleep and sob.

This year, as we take drops of wine out of the ceremonial cup to indicate the sweetness of our celebration is marred by the destruction that took place in order for freedom to be realized, I will take out extra drops in recognition of the Russian soldiers who were unaware of the war they would be fighting, and who, perhaps, want no part of it.

This year, the World Union for Progressive Judaism sent out a special appeal: “The World Union is urging its 1.8 million members around the globe to add a beetroot to their Seder plate this Passover to show solidarity with the people of Ukraine. Ukraine’s most famous national food is borscht, for which the main ingredient is beetroot—making this a symbolic way to express support during the festival.”

Early in the Seder, we break a piece of matzah. A very crisp cracker/flatbread, it makes a sharp sound when it’s broken. Each year, this sound draws my attention to the brokenness in the world. This year, that brokenness is located in a country whose blue and yellow flag has come to symbolize courage and freedom.

‘If only nations …’

Many families sing “Dayenu,” which begins with the word, “Ilu.” “Ilu” means “if only.”

If only nations beat the swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.

If only countries could decide for themselves what kind of government they want.

If only, even in war, soldiers didn’t kill civilians, didn’t bomb hospitals and schools, didn’t plunder and rape and needlessly destroy.

This sentence introduces the recitation part of the Haggadah (the Seder book or telling): “Anyone who grows the telling of the Exodus story, behold, they are praiseworthy.” I understand this as encouragement to expand our awareness of Passover to include the rejection of all tyrants and the perpetual pursuit of freedom.

The Seder closes with “Next year in Jerusalem.”

“Jerusalem,” (“Yerushalayim” in Hebrew) contains the word for peace, “shalom.”

So, it is fitting to end this year’s Seder with “Next year in Jerusalem,” and I will add, “in Kiev, too.”

.

Exterior of the Brodsky Synagogue. (Wikimedia Commons)

Screen over the ark at the Brodsky Synagogue in Ukraine.

.

Care to learn more?

Read the other related columns …

This is one of four Jewish-Christian-and-Muslim holiday columns in mid-April 2022 that include photographs of endangered holy sites in Ukraine. Here are links to all four of them:

RABBI LENORE BOHM writes Passover’s power to inspire action: This year, we will be thinking of Ukraine (the accompanying photographs shows the Brodsky Synagogue in Kyiv).

RABBI JACK RIEMER calls us to Proclaim a Passover ‘Dayenu’ that lifts up the people of Ukraine (with photos of the Kharkiv Choral Synagogue, the largest in Ukraine).

MARKING RAMADAN, Victor Begg reminds us that All of Our Faiths Call on us to be Peacemakers (with photos of the Al-Salam Mosque in Odessa).

REFLECTING ON HOLY WEEK and EASTER, Benjamin Pratt draws on illustrations from Ian Fleming’s Seven Deadlier Sins and 007’s Moral Compass (with St. George’s church in western Ukraine).

And for more on Rabbi Lenore Bohm …

VISIT RABBI LENORE’S RESOURCE PAGE: Go to TorahTutorBook.com to find more information about her ongoing work and her new book.

Order a copy of her new book from Amazon.

When is Passover? The date moves each year with lunar cycles. This year, it begins after sunset on Friday, April 15.

Religion News Service: This week, the Religion News Service carries a story, headlined, ‘Torah Tutor’ arrives in time for Passover and spring Bible studies

.

.

.

Deanna Witkowski invites us to immerse ourselves in the spiritual jazz of Mary Lou Williams

This Gjon Mili photograph of Mary Lou Williams’ hands was taken during the early 1940s jazz sessions Mili hosted for LIFE, but the photograph was not included in the 1943 special issue. You can learn more about Mili via Wikipedia. And, you can see an online version of his famous 1943 illustrated story for LIFE here, based on what has been described as “the single greatest jazz session ever held in New York City.”

.

By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of Read The Spirit magazine

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page. Another option is to purchase a copy of the book from Deanna’s own online store. Deanna says she will sign copies bought from her store.

Deanna Witkowski’s new album, Force of Natureopens with a five-minute tour de force celebrating the vibrant legacy of jazz pioneer Mary Lou Williams. That spirited selection, called Gjon Mili Jam Session, comes from music Williams played in the early 1940s gatherings of jazz greats sponsored by LIFE magazine in New York City that now are known simply as the Gjon Mili Jazz Sessions.

“Anyone who loves jazz could only wish to have been alive and sitting somewhere in that room on the night Mili shot those photographs for LIFE,” says Deanna Witkowski, who has been promoting awareness of her spiritual mentor for many years, culminating in her new book, Mary Lou Williams—Music for the Soul, and her new album.

In an interview about her lively spiritual relationship with Williams, who died in 1981 at age 71, Deanna highlighted a passage from the opening of her new book that sums up the connection: Over the years, “I began to realize that I was literally walking in Mary’s footsteps. As a musician who presents jazz in churches of all different denominations, I often picture Mary seated at the piano in St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue, playing her joyous Mary Lou’s Mass with her trio in front of 3,000 people as five priests process to the altar. Mary gives me courage. Sometimes I speak with her before I play, knowing that in a very real sense, she has been here before me.”

“You speak to her like a saint?” I asked Deanna.

“I would say that sometimes I speak with her when I need inspiration, because she knew so much about the challenges musicians face, and sometimes before I begin playing on stage, I send a quick prayer to Mary—to Mary Lou Williams,” she said.

Click the cover to visit the album’s Amazon page. Another option is to purchase a copy of the CD from Deanna’s own online store. CARE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THIS CD before ordering your own copy? Here are two links to short CD-preview videos. Here’s a 24-second version. And here’s a 1-minute version.

Of course, I wanted to know more. I said, “As you describe in your book, Williams had a vast career from the 1920s through the 1970s, marked by a huge number of challenges from racism to sexism to her eventual decision to selflessly give back to the musical community on a daily basis. In her apartment and across her neighborhood, she personally cared for a number of jazz legends when they were facing hard times,” I said. “In talking about your own daily relationship with Mary now, tell us more about the challenges you face that Mary also faced.”

“Of course, I don’t face everything she faced,” Deanna said. “What I’m talking about are the day-to-day frustrations and the need to find the energy that it takes to keep doing certain kinds of work as a jazz musician and composer—like getting people on board with new projects. That may sound like mundane business to your readers, but this life is not playing the piano. There’s so much other daily work involved in booking gigs, arranging for performances, setting up future projects. Now, anyone who reads my book about Williams’ life will learn that she was both one of our greatest jazz musicians—and they’ll also learn that her faith led her to become a great humanitarian as well. For me, how I relate to Mary on a daily basis has to do with the creative energy it takes to get this music out to people. That takes so much work! And somehow Mary kept finding that energy. She kept going.”

As Deanna explains on her website, the releases of the book and album “cap a 20-year deep dive into the ground-breaking impact of Williams’ life and music.” In the process, Deanna has become a leading authority on Williams. What makes her new biography-and-album so compelling, compared with the two other earlier biographies of Williams, is that Deanna not only researched Williams’ life. She also continues to live, breathe, arrange and perform Mary Lou Williams, giving Deanna an unparalleled empathetic connection with Williams. Deanna has presented at the Kennedy Center, Duke University, Fordham University—and has performed Williams’ compositions as a featured guest with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.

Please note: Deanna also is thankful for Williams’ earlier biographers, who wrote for university-based publishing houses; she recommends their significantly longer books if you find yourself fascinated with Williams and want to learn much more about her early life—so, Deanna asked that we include links to their books at the end of this story.

Deanna also helped to select some video clips, below, that will give you a feel for Williams’ music and her legacy.

But first: Why is Williams such a giant among jazz musicians?

Well, the first answer is: Get a copy of Deanna’s book and read it.

But, one way to quickly shore up Deanna’s enormous respect for Mary Lou Williams is to turn to the words of legendary jazz journalist John S. Wilson, music critic for The New York Times for four decades. When Mary died in 1981, Wilson honored her with a lengthy profile of her career. In part, he wrote:

Mary Lou Williams, pianist, arranger and composer who was the first woman to be ranked with the greatest of jazz musicians, died of cancer at her home in Durham, N.C. She was 71 years old.

This is one of many photographs taken of Mary Lou Williams by the famous photographer William Gottlieb in sessions between the late 1930s and late 1940s and was visual source material for the cover illustration on Deanna’s new biography. You can see more of Gottlieb’s photographs via the Library of Congress website. Or, you can read more about his career on Wikipedia.

Miss Williams was an important contributor to every aspect of jazz that developed during a career that began in the late 1920’s and lasted for more than half a century. She was involved in the vitalizing Kansas City jazz world at the end of the 20’s, when she was playing piano and writing for Andy Kirk’s Twelve Clouds of Joy.

She was an essential element of the Swing Era when she wrote ”Roll ‘Em” and ”Camel Hop” for Benny Goodman, ”What’s Your Story, Morning Glory” for Jimmie Lunceford and ”Trumpets No End” for Duke Ellington. In the be-bop years in the 40’s, she wrote a Dizzy Gillespie hit, ”In the Land of Oo-Bla-Dee,” and after she became a devoted religious convert in the late 50’s, she wrote a number of religious works, including a mass that was performed at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

Miss Williams’ apartment in Sugar Hill Harlem was a place where musicians of all styles and statures flocked. ”I’d leave the door open for them if I was out,” she said. ”Tadd Dameron would come to write when he was out of inspiration, and Thelonious Monk did several of his pieces there. Bud Powell’s brother, Richie, who also played piano, learned how to improvise at my house. And everybody came or called for advice. Charlie Parker would ask what did I think about him putting a group with strings together? Or Miles Davis would ask about expanding his group with a tuba.”

In our interview, Deanna verified that Wilson had effectively hit many of the highlights of Williams’ career.

“But there’s a lot in that piece by Wilson that only people who follow jazz would understand. When he quoted Mary as saying that Charlie Parker consulted her on working with strings and Miles Davis talked to her about his idea of forming a tuba band—those now are famous innovations in jazz history. What Mary was explaining to the interviewer is that she really was right at the heart of what was happening in jazz.”

What also is clear in Wilson’s tribute is the reason that Deanna’s new book is unique in the field of her biographies. Wilson all but buries half a sentence about Mary Lou Williams’ sacred music in a longer paragraph about her popular jazz. In Deanna’s book, Williams’ conversion to Catholicism and her later music are essential parts of her life. In fact, as you will discover in Deanna’s book, Mary Lou Williams continued to establish historic landmarks in jazz-style sacred music until her untimely death.

Videos of Deanna and Mary Lou

Let’s start with one of the official video-previews for Force of Nature.

Then, here’s a 3-minute introductory video that Deanna posted to her YouTube channel. The clip begins with a final short segment of the Gjon Mili Jam Session, which is the first track on her new CD.

This 7-minute video is a homemade clip Deanna streamed in 2021, when the book first was released. The CD’s release followed many months later. In this first video, below, Deanna reads a bit from the book.

After that first video, Deanna made a second video in which she plays from Mary Lou Williams’ version of The Lord’s Prayer.

.

Care to learn more?

For all of Deanna’s videos, visit the Deanna Witkowski YouTube channel. (And note to readers: Deanna also has made lots of videos about the challenges of adapting jazz for sacred settings, including examples of her own compositions and arrangements. Especially if you are interested in this kind of music, there are a whole lot of terrific clips to share with friends in her YouTube Channel.)

There also are various videos of Mary Lou Williams’ performances floating around the internet. Many are of poor quality. Deanna says the best introductory documentary she has found is Music on My Mind, a one-hour documentary released in 1989 that currently is streaming on Vimeo.

For a deeper dive into Mary Lou Williams’ life, Deanna also recommends two earlier and more in-depth biographies. Deanna’s new biography is 168 pages.

.

.

‘Pandemic Saints,’ a poetic reflection

By DANIEL KIDDER-McQUOWN

Recently, I was offering a prayer of committal:
May the deceased join with the saints in Heaven.

It got me to wonder,
Who are the pandemic saints?

You know, the people who sacrificed the most,
Who led us out of the wilderness,
Who restored our soul in our hour of need?

The people who we now turn to in prayer,
Our role models and intercessors,
Those who truly understand our petitions.

It has been two years and four surges,
Countless death and long-term complications,
Lives upended
Forever.

Surely, goodness and mercy followed
The COVID souls into eternal rest,
And they must now see the answer
To my questions.

The deceased have become our reredos,
Watching and praying,
Comforting and guiding.

One night in the hospital chapel,
I overheard Sister Mary Catherine,
Reflecting on the pandemic of 1832.
Today’s response has been similar, she said.
People came out of the woodwork to help.
Regular people became
Extraordinary.

And the pandemic saints are all around us.

.

.

Care to learn more?

THIS POEM is part of a column by the Rev. Daniel Kidder-McQuown, who serves as night chaplain at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The start of this column is a reflection Daniel wrote, headlined: Summoning spiritual resiliency after two years of coping with COVID

.

.

Summoning spiritual resiliency after two years of coping with COVID

The World Health Organization’s Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

EDITOR’s NOTE: On March 11, 2020, World Health Organization Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told the world, “There are now more than 118,000 cases of COVID-19 in 114 countries, and 4,291 people have lost their lives. Thousands more are fighting for their lives in hospitals. In the days and weeks ahead, we expect to see the number of cases, the number of deaths, and the number of affected countries climb even higher. WHO has been assessing this outbreak around the clock and we are deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity, and by the alarming levels of inaction. We have therefore made the assessment that COVID-19 can be characterized as a pandemic. Pandemic is not a word to use lightly or carelessly.” As the world marks the second anniversary of the start of this pandemic, we invited a chaplain to write about the spiritual toll of these two years as well as sources of resilience.

.

Remembering the legacy of the 6 million we have lost

By DANIEL KIDDER-McQUOWN
Contributing Columnist

Recently, I met a patient who was the spark that led me to write this article.  Let’s call him Gregory. At the time I met him, Gregory had been suffering from COVID-19 for an extended period, and his situation was getting worse. I had been called in for spiritual support, and we prayed together with his family. He had a wonderful family, career, faith, and religious community. Sadly, and despite the best efforts of the care team, Gregory eventually died from complications due to COVID-19.

I share this sad story for a couple reasons. First, I want to highlight the plight of those who continue to suffer. I want to give a window into what health care workers are still dealing with. The virus continues. While we have come a long way in managing the pandemic, the virus continues to exact a heart-breaking toll on patients, families, and staff.

The other reason for sharing about Gregory has been his impact on me. Meeting him was like the tipping point for my reflections. These thoughts had been stirring and simmering for months. Gregory’s loss helped me realize it was time to write some of these down.

I share these reflections in hopes that Gregory’s legacy, and the legacy of all those who have suffered from COVID-19, may prove fruitful to you. Perhaps it will spark your own writing and sharing about spiritual lessons.

Countless healthcare workers around the world are exhausted. In this photo, Dr. Annalisa Silvestri slumps to the floor in her hospital in Pesaro, Italy, for a moment of respite in the midst of another 12-hour day. Photo provided via Wikimedia Commons by Alberto Guiliani.

Consider the Human Toll

I am a health care worker.

Throughout the pandemic, I have suffered like countless other health care workers, carrying the accumulated stress of coping. I’ve seen the toll this stress has taken. I’ve been through each “surge” or “wave.” Many of my colleagues who are nurses, respiratory therapists, techs, and doctors have faced symptoms much like post-traumatic stress disorder. Some moved away from the virus, away from the constant suffering, onto other clinical units or other health care facilities. Some have taken a hiatus from serving. Some have left health care altogether. Many have been infected themselves. And all health care workers have made immense sacrifices. They gave of themselves before the pandemic, but this grew to a heroic level in the face of COVID-19.

The suffering goes far beyond the hospital. Everyone in America and the world has been affected by the pandemic, as the recent numbers show over 6 million dead around the world and over 900,000 dead in America. Gregory’s death highlighted this reality for me. An entire family system and religious community were devastated by his loss.

The virus created a universal human experience. Even if a family has not suffered an immediate loss, everyone knows someone who has. Everyone has felt the pandemic’s impact.

A Deeper Spirituality

The pandemic has forced me to reach deeper into my spirituality. In order to continue to serve effectively as a hospital chaplain in the face of the pandemic, I needed to grow inwardly. I needed to find fresh sources of renewal for myself, if I was going to help patients, families, and staff to do the same.

Here are some of the spiritual lifelines on which I rely.

Living Water

Throughout the pandemic, one of my sources of renewal has been my prayer life. This has been a constant blessing, filling me up and guiding me whenever–and wherever–I have needed it.  The metaphor of “living water” was used by Jesus to describe renewal:

Those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty.  The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life. (John 4:14)

For me, prayer has been this living water, my primary source of renewal and direction.

My prayer life has deepened. I remember my prayers of March 2020. At that time, we were all coming to terms with the scale and terrible power of the pandemic. At that time, my prayers were focused on immediate needs. How can I serve others in the face of the unknown? How can handle my fears and minister effectively? How do I minister to people who have lost everything?

Despite these difficult prayers, I found great solace. I discovered a sense that God had called me, and all health care workers, to such a time as this.

Letting Go

Fast-forward to 2022. We are now on variant number five (Omicron). The pandemic has become part of daily life. Now, my prayers have expanded in every way possible. I have found myself continuing to pray for the same things as I did in March 2020, but also for countless other things.

For example, I have learned to pray to completely let go of the future. I have learned to pray to release the future into the hands of God. “Let go and let God,” has become my lifestyle. The pandemic has made crystal clear to me that humans are not, ultimately, in control. And I am certainly not in control of the universe.

This prayer of letting go has had an odd, paradoxical effect. The more I have let go of the future into God’s hands, the more I have felt God’s guidance. By letting go through prayer, I haven’t let go of my responsibilities. On the contrary, I feel more empowered than ever by God to make a difference.

Suffering is Universal

Throughout the pandemic, I reflected on the Buddha’s teachings on suffering. In Buddhism, it is important to accept that “suffering” (dukkha in the Pali language) is a universal part of the human experience. Please note that dukkha has also been translated as pain, dissatisfaction, unhappiness, and other words. But the point is, it is important to accept that everyone suffers in life, and no one escapes this reality.

I found COVID-19 reinforced this essential lesson. No one escaped the effects of the virus. Even if a person was not personally infected, they knew people who were. The virus has been a global, universal suffering.

Acknowledging the universal nature of suffering has been freeing. It has allowed me to see the pandemic as another part of life. Instead of being paralyzed by fear, I have learned to accept the virus, and therefore be free to experience all the other parts of life.

Being in health care has helped this. At the end of the day, COVID-19 has taken its place alongside all the other viruses that medicine has had to deal with.

In Buddhist practice, there is no spiritual progress without the acceptance of the inevitability of suffering. I have certainly found this to be true in my life. The pandemic reinforced and deepened this lesson. As the pandemic evolved, I evolved. The more accepting I became of COVID-19 as a part of a universal reality, the freer I was in other aspects of my spiritual life. The more accepting I was, the more I grew.

Enjoying the Little Things

The pandemic taught me to value life more than I had before.

This has been especially true with the little things in my world, which, as it turns out, are not “little” at all. They may have been regular, and I may have taken them for granted, but not any longer. I found myself valuing being at home more than I had before, appreciating my loved ones and friends more deeply, enjoying small tasks and chores for thoroughly, and finding more joy in small rewards and small pleasures.

I have found myself valuing my trips outside more than I had before. Over the past two summers, my partner and I have found a way to get out in nature more, and we have appreciated these trips more thoroughly than perhaps we did in the past. Now, trips to a restaurant or a grocery store are somewhat magical; we know what it was like to have it all taken away.

Taking Care

The pandemic has reinforced every compassionate instinct.

We have been reminded, again, that life is incredibly fragile and precious. It has been made clear once again that resiliency happens because we care for each other, and for ourselves. Without this compassion and care, we would not have made it this far through the pandemic. With this compassion and care, we can make it through anything.

Inviting You to Share

If you have your own reflections on spiritual lessons from the pandemic, please share them in the comments section of this article, or email me at [email protected].  I would love to read them and appreciate your journey.

.

Care to learn more?

WHO IS THIS WRITER? The Rev. Daniel Kidder-McQuown serves as night chaplain at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He is a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary and an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. As a board certified chaplain since 2001, he has served in health care and higher education settings, as well as interim ministry in local churches. Dan, his spouse Kari, their family (including dog Esther and cat Spicy Pickles), all reside in Albion, Michigan.

A REFLECTION IN POETRY. This week, Daniel also has written a reflection in poetry that you may want to read and share with friends. He calls it, ‘Pandemic Saints.’

FOR FURTHER READING: Daniel also suggests that readers may want to see: