Praised be the Holy One of Blessing. . . who frees the captives.
For many years, these words from the traditional siddur have been part of my regular prayer practice. But this blessing has taken on a heightened spiritual power and urgency since I was released from the Ada County jail last Thursday night, after getting arrested as part of the “Add the Words” civil disobedience demonstrations on behalf of Idaho’s LGBT community.
This is, of course, not to say that the Creator showed up in person to plead my case or pay my bail. My God does not work that way. But make no mistake, She was very much there for me, a true redeeming presence that liberated me and has continued to sustain my spirit in recent days.
God was present, freeing the captives, in the person of Jeannette Bowman and Terry McKay (proudly wearing his Teletubbies kippah)—who were at my side as fellow demonstrators, and in the person of each and every one of the other protestors arrested with us, gay and straight and transgendered, young and old, of all faiths (including Mennonite, Presbyterian, and Episcopal clergy) and of none. God was present in the vast team of organizers, videographers and supporters that sustained our efforts. And God was and is present in the LGBT community for whom we labored, and whose members filled our ranks.
God was present in the person of Chris Einhorn, a new CABI member, who saw reports of our demonstration and arrest on Facebook and immediately drove down to the jail to give me a ride home—after waiting patiently, for many hours, until we were all released.
God was present in the person of Julie Zicha, who met with all of the demonstrators just before we left for the Statehouse, to share the story of her teenage son, Ryan, who committed suicide after he was relentlessly bullied for three years, just for being gay. We carried pictures of Ryan, and of Maddie Beard, another gay teenage suicide victim, who died in Pocatello just two weeks ago. Ryan and Maddie are gone from this world, but in their absence, God is powerfully present, and She is struggling to liberate Her children from bigotry and hate, so that Ryan and Maddie and countless others’ deaths shall not be in vain.
God was present in the words of Republican former Governor Phil Batt, who spoke out on behalf of his gay grandson and urged his colleagues and fellow lawmakers to do the right thing and add the words. God was—and is—present in the hearts of those lawmakers who are even now sincerely striving to hear the voice of conscience and choose integrity over political expediency. God is there, changing hearts and minds, bending the long moral arc of the universe inexorably toward liberating justice.
God was—and is—extraordinarily present in the prophetic leadership of Senator Nicole LeFavour. This week’s Torah portion, which begins the book of Leviticus, is known as Vayikra, meaning: “And God called. . .” It opens with God’s call to Moses, who responds with the utmost of humility. In reading this passage this year, I have been thinking constantly of Nicole, who has led the march toward freedom for our LGBT brothers and sisters with that same sense of sacred and faithful calling, and with that same remarkable humility that so inspires all who follow to hear and trust the better angels of our own souls.
And God is present, ever and always, for me, in the abiding presence of you, my community, the presence of all who have enabled me to play my small part in this work by way of your steadfast compassion and support. I am overwhelmed by your chesed, your unconditional love, with which you have graced me. When others might have easily groused about their rabbi going to jail, you have shown pride and showered me with kindness. I am blessed by you all, far beyond my inadequate ability to express.
I would like to conclude with some powerful and poetic words that Senator LeFavour wrote and posted on her Facebook page a week ago. Her language is secular, but for me, her message is deeply sacred, a faithful testimony to God’s liberating power in our lives:
In my heart, the coyotes and owls, the creatures of darkness, slumber.
I will tend the light, set despair scuttling across pastures on clawed feet.
Sleep and dream of love and peace.
Know I stand guard at the gates of darkness when they call you.
You belong to the sun.
Turn now; there is a meadow dappled in shadow and light.
Lay there. Lift your face to the sky
Til hope find you.
Praised be to the Holy One of Blessing, who, indeed, liberates the captives.