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For All That Has Yet To Be - Halleluyah!

 

So, by a show of hands, who has heard of Eurovision? Well, if you haven’t heard of it, you have plenty to check out on YouTube this weekend. Eurovision is an annual competition, initially among European countries and now open to about fifty nations. It is basically the Olympics for highly produced song and dance numbers, beginning with in-country competitions so each nation can select their top song, which they send to the international event. In 1978, Israel took home the top prize with a song called Abani Bi. Tradition holds that the winning country would host the competition the following year, so Eurovision 1979 was set to be hosted in Jerusalem.

I was interested to learn [https://israeled.org/israels-hallelujah-wins-eurovision-song-contest/] that Israel’s designation as the Eurovision host prompted a “massive financial investment... in order to upgrade Israeli television’s infrastructure, which in 1979 was still not able to broadcast fully in color...The event drew huge amounts of publicity and television viewers.  [and] for the second consecutive year, the Israeli entry won the contest with the song, Halleluyah, performed by Gali Atari and [supergroup] ‘Milk and Honey’”

Halleluyah, the lyrics declare - that ultimate word of gratitude that we know from our psalms and our prayers - praise God! Repeating this ancient, poetic word of thanks throughout its lyrics, Israel’s 1979 Eurovision winner is a modern poem of praise.

While we’re perhaps most familiar with the psalms that offer this uplifting word, Halleluyah, in this poetic book of the Bible, there are 150 psalms, and over the years, scholars have attempted to classify them into various genres - psalms of praise, psalms of thanksgiving, psalms of lament, psalms of disorientation, psalms of new orientation. Teaching in the name of my teacher, Dr. Andrea Weiss, Psalm 13 in particular is a psalm that expresses grief, rather than gratitude. Ad ana - the psalmist asks no less than four times in this short poem - how long? “How long, oh God, will you forget me always? How long will you hide your face from me? How long shall I cast about for counsel, sorrow in my heart all day? How long will my enemy loom above me?” (Ps. 13:2-3).

These words could have been written for our times. As chaplain and trauma counselor Terri Daniel recounted to NPR week: [https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/03/26/820304899/coronavirus-has-upended-our-world-its-ok-to-grieve]

“The coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe has not only left many anxious about life and death issues, it's also left people struggling with a host of less obvious, existential losses as they heed stay-home warnings and wonder how bad all of this is going to get...’We need to recognize that mixed in with all the feelings we're having of anger, disappointment, perhaps rage, blame and powerlessness – is grief.’”

It took me all week to name it, and this morning, I realized that that I have been experiencing grief. I’m grieving my daily routine - driving the thirty minutes between Great Barrington and Pittsfield listening to NPR or top 40, meeting with you at Temple or downtown, and heading home at the end of the day. I’m grieving the impacts on my son, who’s out of school, on my extended family, separated across the country and from each other. I’m grieving the long-term impacts on our community, on Pittsfield, on the Berkshires, and I’m grieving what’s happening or what might happen to each of you.

Here’s one thing I know - our grief is unique, and yet, we’re all in this together. This week, I heard stories of grief from friends, family, and from you. They read like a liturgy of loss:

The grief of a daughter whose mother died this week, whose out of town siblings could only attend the funeral by phone, rather than standing together to honor her memory.

The grief of checking the headlines each morning, particularly the statistics that reduce individuals to numbers and charts.

There’s the grief of my friend who lost her job this week, with no notice and no compassion from a place she has worked for over a decade.

The grief of Passover, a time to meet around a shared table, becoming a virtual holiday, with each of us in our zoom boxes, instead of gathering in each other’s homes or at Temple

And grief of two people standing six feet apart on a street corner, unable to hug each other.

There are other types of grief - anticipatory grief, for things that haven’t happened yet, prompting more questions than answers:

Will I get sick? Will someone I love get sick? Will my kids go back to school? Will I lose my job? Will my vacation be cancelled this summer? When can I go to work again? When can we travel? Will anything be the same again? How long will social distancing go on? In the words of the psalmist, Ad ana? How long?

Experts also tell us that it’s easy, right now, with so many kinds of grief around us, to minimize our feelings, especially when the grief of not being able to go to our favorite restaurant might feel less significant than the grief of losing a loved one. Grief is grief, and we only do ourselves harm to minimize or categorize our unique experiences.

In a recent interview with Harvard Business Review, grief expert David Kessler explained it in this way: [https://hbr.org/2020/03/that-discomfort-youre-feeling-is-grief]

“There is something powerful about naming this as grief. It helps us feel what’s inside of us. So many have told me in the past week, “I’m telling my coworkers I’m having a hard time,” or “I cried last night.” When you name it, you feel it and it moves through you. Emotions need motion. It’s important we acknowledge what we go through... [So often, w]e tell ourselves things like, I feel sad, but I shouldn’t feel that; other people have it worse. We can — we should — stop at the first feeling. I feel sad. Let me go for five minutes to feel sad. Your work is to feel your sadness and fear and anger whether or not someone else is feeling something. Fighting it doesn’t help because your body is producing the feeling. If we allow the feelings to happen, they’ll happen in an orderly way, and it empowers us. Then we’re not victims.”

Anticipatory grief is one way in which our current reality is unprecedented and, at times, untenable — adding layers of uncertainty to our lives. Ad ana? How long? What does the future hold? In our day to day isolation, with minimal social contact, our thoughts, questions, and fears are only magnified.

Mindfulness and prayer practices help us to be present in the moment, to think about what is immediately in front of us. We can focus our attention on our grief in the here and now by naming it, being present with it, and also looking for the moments of beauty around us - spring unfolding before our eyes, a cherished interaction with a loved one, a quiet moment to exercise or read. We can write, sing, photograph, cook, and make art that reflects the beauty in front of us. We are modern psalmists creating praise.

And as a counterbalance to anticipatory grief, we can look ahead to the future with a positive outlook as well. We can remind ourselves that we will see our friends and family again, even if right now, we don’t know exactly when. Our communities and relationships will emerge different and, I believe, stronger from the intentional ways in which we connect with each other and lift each other up in this time spent apart. And like Israel’s TV upgrades in 1979, we’ve needed to make technological leaps in our lives, jobs, and temple that will ultimately benefit the ways we interact as a society.

A few weeks ago, the organizers of Eurovision 2020, set to be hosted in Rotterdam, cancelled the event for the first time in its history. If you are a Eurovision fan, this was one more drop in that bucket, one more reason for grief. And yet, there is still new music being written, and there are still connections between countries, and there are still lyrics that lift up our souls.

There are times to grieve, and there are times to praise. There are times to be in the moment, and times to look to the future.

And so we share that song from 1979 [https://youtu.be/C33kO3fvjkI], a modern psalm of anticipatory praise, acknowledging the both uncertainty of our grief and our hope for all that will be:

 

Halleluyah im ha’shir

Halleluyah al yom she’meir

 

Halleluyah - praise with a song

Halleluyah - praise a day that shines brightly

 

Halleluyah al mah she haya

U mah she od lo haya

Halleluyah

 

Halleluyah - praise God for all that has been,

and for all that has yet to be - give thanks and praise.

 

Tue, October 27 2020 9 Cheshvan 5781