In the days following the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, I felt a weight on my heart that left me feeling saddened and hurt over the violence that takes place in our society and the systems that are a part of it. The violence continued as the shockwaves of that moment reverberated in a flurry of rioting and looting amidst the many peaceful protests speaking out against police brutality, which affected several neighborhoods here in Chicago. The barrage of social media posts from my black friends and white allies, who’s refrain of “Your silence reveals your complicity,” struck me deeply.
I felt a stirring in my heart to respond but did not know how. What could I say or do to add any sort of significance to the issue at hand? How can I take action and not simply speak empty words without the works to follow?
The longing in my heart was answered the following week when Isabel Salazar, a classmate of mine from Catholic Theological Union, asked me for help in organizing an interfaith prayer service. In that moment, I felt this is how I was called to address the needs of the communities who are hurting from the violence. Finding a group of people on fire from the promptings of the Holy Spirit was inspiring.
This interfaith community gathering proved to be a sign of solidarity from the grassroots level that brought nearly seventy people together in a spirit of deep prayer, compassion and unity. The location Isabel chose was just five blocks away from the Augustinian parish of St. Turibius—a local Walgreens that stood boarded up after rioters broke into it and looted the shelves. It was intentionally chosen as a significant place to congregate as it was a site of such reactionary violence, perhaps by some who found it opportune to use the protests to get away with theft. The prayer service itself was led by representatives of the Islamic, Catholic, and Protestant communities, each offering a prayer and a reflection about the state of our city and nation, and how God can be found in these revolutionary times. A moment was also given to read aloud the names of the victims of homicide in Chicago during the previous month, a powerful display of the sheer humanity behind the famous statistics of Chicago’s violence.
Each faith community brought something unique and special to the table of fellowship in this gathering. People united their prayers with those in other languages, shared stories about being spared from a life of criminal activity, and music to reflect the need for uplifting one another.
We discovered within the diversity of spiritualities gathered our common hunger for justice.
The beauty of an event like this was that there was no political agenda to be pushed and no doctrine to be preached. It was a brief moment of respite in the lives of those who have been affected by the chaos of loss of life and property. People were crying out in their hearts “why?” after witnessing destruction on their streets and being kept up by the wailing sirens in response. “Why” may be a question that could only be answered in the solidarity of community.
From an Augustinian perspective, community is how many of us are able to enjoy a life of intimacy through deep relationships with those we live with and those whom we serve. In the common life, we share our joys and our sorrows, our celebrations and our defeats, our peace and our anxieties. The community becomes the center of our lives and ripples into the lives of the people we encounter.
At this interfaith prayer service, we all brought with us our own experience of spirituality, but from this friar’s view, the spirit of Augustine was alive through the communal prayer of the seventy neighbors and strangers who gathered to share in solidarity the experience of suffering and loss in a broken world and healing community. It gives me hope that even in all the turmoil we’ve experienced, we still find ways to connect with each other and with our God in the varied ways we come to understand Him.