Ceremony marks 9-11 anniversary

On the day the nation mourned the sixth anniversary of Sept. 11, Native Americans, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Taoists gathered to affirm the unity of all humanity.

At the front of the Havurah Shir Hadash synagogue in Ashland, candles flickered on fragments of rubble from the collapse of the Twin Towers in New York City, serving as a grim reminder of the date's meaning. But the evening prayer ceremony focused on peace and forgiveness.

"All we know is our separate names. All we know is the name of our separate tribes," said Rabbi David Zaslow. "Joy and celebration have the possibility of bringing us together, but only if we invite each other."

David West, director of Native American Studies at Southern Oregon University, related a story about an image that came to his mind at the time of 9-11.

A young Native American from Chiloquin was killed on the weekend before Sept. 11, 2001 in a car wreck when he missed a curve on a trip to take part in a Grants Pass powwow. He was an expert in grass dancing, in which a person skillfully tramps grass down in a mat to prepare space for ceremonies.

West said he saw a picture in his mind's eye of the young man dancing in tall grass, making a path for thousands of souls to travel to the Milky Way and the northern lights. He called the man's grieving father, who told him that he was the third person to report the vision.

"That gave my heart peace and I'm hoping tonight that that story gave your heart peace," West said.

At a time when America is at war, Rev. Ruth Kirby reminded the audience of the words of Abraham Lincoln during this country's Civil War. He had expressed compassion for Confederate soldiers.

"Someone asked him, 'Don't you want to destroy your enemies?' He said, 'Do I not destroy my enemies when I turn them into my friends?'" Kirby said.

She said that on Sept. 11, 2001, some people lost their sense of safety, trust in their government, faith in their fellow man or even their faith in God.

But Kirby said there is one source of all life, no matter what name people use to call it, and people are never alone. Each person has the power to love and forgive.

Another outcome of the tragedy was a hardening of attitudes against organized religion as the theological underpinnings of the Sept. 11 attacks and America's retaliatory actions emerged. More people believe religion is a negative force and want to dismiss it altogether, said the Rev. Anne Bartlett.

But she said people need to return to the mystical center at the core of every religion.

"We need to find that source and therefore find each other," Bartlett said.

Pastor Pam Shepherd read several passages from one of Jesus Christ's most well-known sermons.

"'Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted"&

166;' 'Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy"&

166;' 'Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God,'" she read.

Dr. Krishna and Kamud, Hindus who are originally from India, shared a traditional song, a message delivered in Sanskrit and then English, and perspectives from their religion. Dr. Krishna said established religion has divided people, but a life force unites everyone.

"Water is the same no matter what it is called in different languages. We have come under one roof. We feel happiness here," he said. "We are one."

Gene Burnett, representing Taoism, struck a more political note. He explained that Taoism promotes an attitude of surrender and acceptance. If a person is hit, the best response is to take the hit and grieve, or at the most, defend oneself with as little force as possible. Striking back forcefully will just promote a violent reaction, he said.

He sang a song he wrote in response to Sept. 11 with lyrics that said, in part, "It's a shame you had to die. I wish we had just buried you and cried and forgot about an eye for an eye."

Echoing the words of several other speakers, Abdi Aziz, a Muslim originally from Somalia, said the Quran speaks about the unity of humankind.

Although the world seems filled with violence, Abdi Aziz said in his travels to many countries, he has always found that people are very kind.

His wife, Mary Aziz, read a poem by e.e. cummings about a small church existing in harmony with the cycles of nature.

"If you don't think this is interfaith, I'm a Muslim woman reading a poem called 'I Am A Little Church' in a synagogue," she said.

To cap the evening, the Native American Whistling Elk drum group delivered a powerful singing and drumming performance, their voices rising and falling in perfect harmony, and a Jewish member of the community blew a ram's horn.

Audience members and speakers lingered in the synagogue, talking to friends, neighbors and people they had never met. Outside, they walked back to their cars and houses under the light of the Milky Way.

Staff writer can be reached at 479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.

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