In 1991, the Gulf War broke out as the United States military strove to push invading Iraqi forces out of Kuwait. In retaliation, Iraq fired missiles into Israel. It was a frightening time, and religious tensions mounted around the world and in Canada.
The Very Rev. Walter Farquharson was the moderator of the United Church of Canada at that time. A well-known hymn writer, Rev. Farquharson initiated a package of materials to be sent out to his faith community to be used as appropriate responses to this controversial conflict. The package had the song “Stay With Us” in it, with these lyrics:
Stay with us through the night. Stay with us through the pain. Stay with us, blessed stranger, till the morning breaks again.
Stay with us through the night. Stay with us through the grief. Stay with us, blessed stranger, till the morning brings relief.
Stay with us through the night. Stay with us through the dread. Stay with us, blessed stranger, till the morning breaks new bread.
As our world once again descends into violence and fear, I find myself thinking of this hymn and recalling its lyrics. I often hum the tune and reflect on its message to ground myself grappling with this difficult reality.
I know that I am not alone in feeling shaken and uneasy by what we hear and see of the violence and destruction in Israel and Palestine. The entire Emmanuel community is feeling the pain of these events. Relationships are under strain. Community bonds are painfully stretched. Not everyone is impacted by this conflict and experiencing its challenges to the same degree or in the same way. Students and faculty who belong to Muslim and Jewish communities are most intensely impacted, and our thoughts go out to them especially.
The conflict we are witnessing is so tangled and so deep it is hard to know how to reach across the divide. It is easy to despair at the overwhelming magnitude of the situation whose solution is beyond our reach. Yet, we cannot afford to lose hope and give up seeking justice. We must stand up for one another. We must offer comfort and care to those who are sad and alone. We must remain in solidarity with every member of the Emmanuel community who has been affected by the violence. Though it may seem impossible at times, we are called to reach deeply into our spiritual resources in order to find peace, healing and forgiveness and offer them to all our relations. Many of our community members have been engaged in solidarity work; one form of solidarity is that we pray to stay together and go through the night together.
Rev. Farquharson’s hymn brings comfort and hope to me because of its contemplative melody full of longing and compassion and its words reminding us that in our grief and fear, a stranger may be the one who shows us the light. I beg you to reach out to a stranger with love. And as we go through this crisis as a community and journey through the darkest months of the year, may we stay together through the night of the pain, the grief and the dread till the morning breaks again.
—Principal HyeRan Kim-Cragg