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  • The Rev. Barbara Ballenger

Rector’s Note: The silence that shouts-2.29.24

There is the silence that hides, and then there is the silence that shouts.

The silence that hides keeps its concerns to itself as it lets injustice happen without objection. The silence that shouts harnesses the power of a quiet purposeful action to draw attention to pain or suffering. It turns heads.

 Last Sunday afternoon I witnessed the latter as Jess and I joined more than 350 people who participated in A Silent Procession for Peace: A Public Ritual. “We Grieve the Loss of Every Child – There is Another Way,’ the flier read. Participants carried photos of Israeli and Palestinian children who have died in the conflict, as well as bundles that evoked swaddled infants.

The silent march down Germantown Avenue in Chestnut hill called for an end to the violence in the war between Israel and Hamas. The event was sponsored by Combatants for Peace, a grassroots movement of Palestinians and Israelis. The Philadelphia Peace Walk, of which our own Linda Toia is a member, was also a sponsor.

I have participated in many acts of protest over the years. In fact I saw many people at Sunday’s procession whom I have worked with over the years on issues ranging from climate justice, to gun violence, to school funding, to anti-racism. But this march was very different. There was not the usual banter of friends working on difficult things, filling the challenging space with comradery. What united us last week was the weight of shared sorrow, which didn’t need a lot of explanation, and couldn’t bear distraction.  And in this case, it didn’t need a tightly parsed political stand laid out on signs. In fact, I’m sure we all held many opinions on how the violence in Israel might end.

But the march, which closed a half-mile section of Germantown Avenue both ways for about 30 minutes, spoke volumes about atrocities too painful to describe, about violent acts too devastating to defend, about lives too innocent to sacrifice, and connection too close to ignore despite being thousands of miles away from war in another part of the world.

It was motivated by numbers that speak for themselves:  the death toll in Gaza – mainly of women and children has reached 30,000 lives. That follows the deaths of 1300 Israelis in the Oct. 7 Hamas attack that started the war.  That is not counting the kidnapped, the injured, the grieving and the terrified. The death and disruption reaches into the lives of people that I know in the Philadelphia region, where friends, relatives and colleagues live.

One of the things that surprised me about this silent march was the way it drew the respectful attention of people shopping, walking or working along that section of Germantown in Chestnut Hill. People came out and sat on the stoops of businesses and homes to watch the procession pass by. A woman in a flour- covered apron tapped her chest in sorrow as we passed by the bakery where she worked. Voices were subdued. People were watchful.

This revealed not only a deep concern that the marchers shared, but I believe it also reveals the wider  lament that exists throughout our community and our country – a lament that is hard to put into words other than “Stop.” I know that we don’t all agree on how the violence in Gaza must end, but there was a sense that it must stop now, that the innocent must be spared, that as citizens we want our elected officials to use their considerable power of persuasion and purse strings to work for solutions that don’t require violence now or in the future.

It also revealed the connection that we have as people of goodwill, and the power of wanting something just and good that can barely be imagined or described. The silence said enough. It left room for tears, and feeling the feelings of the day and the disastrous reality we were lamenting.

The silence also said “Enough!” And that has been ringing in my ears ever since.

In our Lenten moments of silence and lament and longing for Easter, let us place our prayers for peace in the Holy Land with them, a reminder of broken land that God chose to become incarnate in, the divine sorrow at our addiction to violence, and the hope of redemption and peace that rides on the silent path of God’s wisdom and grace.

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sam hogg
sam hogg


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