Remarks at Vigil, Following Sikh Temple Terrorism

My prepared remarks for the August 10, 2012 Candlelight Vigil at the Sikh Foundation of Virginia, in Fairfax Station. Excerpts from these remarks were reprinted in the local papers:

"Greetings friends and neighbors.

I am Reverend Scott Sammler-Michael, minister of the Accotink Unitarian Universalist Church, only one mile from here down Burke Lake road. I bring greetings from Accotink and from all the Northern Virginia Unitarian Universalists – Fairfax, Arlington, Reston, Sterling, Alexandria, Leesburg. I bring greetings from VOICE - Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement.

I also bring greetings from Faith Communities in Action, the interfaith group led by the amazing Sandy Chisolm. Through Faith Communities in Action, I was given the honor of serving my community as a Fairfax County Community Chaplain. To Chairman Ajaib and the Sikh Foundation of Northern Virginia, Accotink and FCIA stand with you today in solidarity as you wrestle with the strong feelings evoked by last Sunday’s act of terror at your Gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. Unitarian Universalists understand this all too well; our Knoxville, Tennessee church was attacked by a terrorist in August 2008.

Sadly, it may be no mistake that your community and ours were targets of such hate.

The Sikh faith rejects all distinctions of caste, creed, race or gender and sexual orientation. Unitarian Universalism also rejects these distinctions. Sikhism is a religion preaching a profound and deep equality of all people. Unitarian Universalism as well teaches this divine truth. Such openness seems too much for persons disposed to fear and domination. For too many people, the primitive drive to separate human beings from one another continues today in the form of racism, classism, white supremacy, terrorism, homophobia.

We stand resolutely with you and with all our Sikh brothers and sisters, knowing you are a strong people grieving this moment. We stand with you as you proclaim that “this is your country, too,” We are grateful for your welcoming presence, for your gentleness of spirit, and for the example of peace and beauty you show the world. We are outraged, ashamed, and deeply saddened this attack. My colleague Daniel Kanter, minister of First Unitarian Church of Dallas, had this to say about last Sunday’s shooting:

“We must educate the ignorant, address the intolerant, and prosecute the violent.

We must stop organizations and individuals fueled by hatred and prejudice, those lost, dangerous souls who take lives of innocent Americans, preying on those who appear “foreign” to them. We only become the land of the free and the brave when we all step up our responses to those who live cowardly and diligently uninformed lives when it comes to race, religion and ethnicity.”

I am told that Sikh’s claim that God is unknowable – we can know of God’s existence but we really know nothing of God. Too many in our world claim they know the mind and will of God; but such extravagant assumptions too often lead preachers and politicians to deny the humanity of whole classes of people, be they immigrants, prisoners, Muslims, Sikhs, atheists, homosexuals. Such dehumanizing incites violence in the streets;

It also does violence to the soul by claiming the hatred that lives only in the human heart actually lives in the mind and will of the almighty; it is the greatest sin of all to claim God hates and wants to kill or separate. The truth is God’s love knows no limits; it is limiting the horizons of human love that allows these acts of hate to happen. Most ills in our society stem from not acknowledging this basic fact – we are all beloved creatures of God, embued with divine spirit, and cherished by the holy.

Like Sikhs, Unitarian Universalists also believe God is unknowable, so we ‘describe the holy’ with terms like: ‘the spirit of life,” or ‘the love uniting us all’ ... ‘The ultimate mystery behind life and being.’ Or my favorite – “the creativity of the cosmos and human culture” One of the ways we all experience God is through our breath – the very stuff of life. ~ The Hebrew word for spirit is ‘ruach’ –‘ruach’ also means ‘breath’ or ‘throat.’

The spirit is in us; it’s detectable as the life force, as the very air we breathe and the throat through which we breathe it. We are the hands and voices and breath of the divine.

The very name the Jewish torah uses for God can be expressed as an onomatopoeia for ‘breath’ – “Yah-weh” – say it slowly – “Yah-weh.”

Allow me to close with this meditation on breath written by the 13th century Sufi mystic, Rumi: -


Not Christian or Jew or Muslim, not Hindu

Buddhist, sufi, or zen.

Not any religion or cultural system.

I am not from the East or the West,

not out of the ocean or up from the ground,

not natural or ethereal, not composed of elements at all. I do not exist, am not an entity in this world or the next,

did not descend from Adam and Eve or any origin story.

My place is placeless, a trace of the traceless.

Neither body or soul.

I belong to the beloved, have seen the two

worlds as one and that one call to and know,

first, last, outer, inner, only that

breath breathing human being.

There is a way between voice and presence

where information flows.

In disciplined silence it opens.

With wandering talk it closes. "

So let my wandering talk cease, and let us embrace in a public show of love. We offer our hearts, our strength and our love to you and to your community.

In faith, love and solidarity,

Reverend Scott Sammler-Michael