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Chaplaincy Messages

Thanksgiving Thoughts 

As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday, I would like to share two messages with you. 

The second is more on the Biblical origins of Thanksgiving, which I was asked to write for the chaplain/CDI internal newsletter called The Transmitter. I hope you find the reading worthwhile... and that you have a SAFE AND BLESSED THANKSGIVING.

 

1.  We are, as a country,  in desperate need of some common ground. That’s why, this year, Thanksgiving isn’t coming a day too soon.

No matter our political views, our religious beliefs, or where we live,  on the fourth Thursday of November, Americans will step outside their daily routines to partake in this beloved national holiday.

It is natural that we mark Thanksgiving in many different ways. For some, expressions of gratitude to God take center stage, while others celebrate in a more secular fashion.  Some will stick to the holiday’s traditional menu, while others will augment their dinners with dishes reflecting their own cultural backgrounds — and vegetarian Americans might opt for a “tofurkey.”

But a shared national holiday is still a shared national holiday, even as its observance is infinitely customizable and variegated. 

And even if, because of the pandemic, we will probably celebrate it more physically apart from family that we would normally be with. It becomes harder to give thanks fully, but I invite you to still recognize what we CAN be thankful for, and I invite you to overload the internet and telephone circuits to connect with those we otherwise would see personally.

There is a teaching, “This too shall pass.” Although the teaching doesn’t say when, it should give us the essential quality of HOPE that we will overcome the challenge of the pandemic. May it happen soon!

 

2.  As I write these words, it’s only about a month until we observe the holiday of Thanksgiving. Even in these stressful times of pandemic, we need to channel our thoughts into this positive holiday. 

The Thanksgiving celebration, Thursday, November 26 this year, is rooted in both the Jewish harvest festival of Sukkot and the holiday of Hanukkah, this year starting the evening of December 10.

 The Puritans were greatly influenced by the Biblical narrative of celebrating the Sukkot holiday as they planned their first Thanksgiving observance. Sukkot was the harvest festival in ancient Israel, and the Puritans resonated with that idea.

 So how can Thanksgiving be connected with Hanukkah as well? Many scholars feel that the Maccabees’ “first” celebration of the victory over Antiochus and his Syrian Greek forces, with the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem after it had been desecrated, became a delayed celebration of Sukkot. You can read this account of this victory in the book of Maccabees, part of the Apocrypha.

 The act of “thanksgiving” is a universal religious value. Actually, we really shouldn’t need a “special” day to give thanks, because gratitude should be part of our ongoing, daily spiritual practice.

 Prayers on the theme of thanksgiving are a basic part of every religious tradition I am aware of. Psalm 92, for example, which is recited every Friday night in the synagogue, opens with the words, “It is good to thank God.” What a simple and beautiful sentiment. Gratitude shouldn’t be and can’t be confined to a given time or place. Gratitude does not have a prescribed amount. It is simply good to thank God.

 Every morning, my prayers include Psalm 100, one of the shorter, more ecumenical, and most beautiful of the Psalms. Do consider saying it at your Thanksgiving celebration: 

A Psalm of Thanks 

Raise a shout for the Lord, all the earth; Worship the Lord in gladness

 Come into God’s presence with shouts of joy

 Acknowledge that the Lord is God;  God made us and we are God’s God’s people, the flock God tends 

Enter God’s gates with praise;  God’s courts with acclamation 

Praise God! Bless God’s name! For the Lord is good; God’s steadfast love is eternal.

God’s faithfulness is for all generations. 

Have a joyous Thanksgiving!  

 

April 8, 2020

Another week starts and we remain in the midst of the pandemic. 

 

One of the most remarkable and inspiring things, and we all have seen stories of it in countless places, is how hospital and health workers, and police and first responders as well, are so devotedly doing their life-saving tasks, disregarding their own personal safety. 

 

One thing EACH IF US can do is to say a prayer for them, I share the prayer below, forwarded to me by a colleague.

 

Blessings and be safe!

 

May the One who blessed our ancestors
Bless all those who put themselves at risk to care for the sick:
Physicians and nurses and orderlies
Patient transporters, hospital cleaning staff, and security guards,
Technicians and home health aides,
EMTs and pharmacists
[And bless especially  ________ who is in  need of healing]
Who navigate the unfolding dangers of the world each day,
To tend to those they have sworn to help.
Bless them in their coming home and bless them in their going out.
Ease their fear. Sustain them.
Source of all breath, healer of all beings,
Protect them and restore their hope.
Strengthen them, that they may bring strength;
Keep them in health, that they may bring healing.
Help them know again a time when they can breathe without fear.
Bless the sacred work of their hands.
May this plague pass from among us, speedily and in our days.

Rabbi Ayelet S. Cohen

 

April 5, 2020

Words of Blessing to all CAP members reading this message….

 I share some thoughts as we draw close to holy days in the Christian, Jewish and Muslim religious calendars….

If one thing has become clear to almost everyone in recent days, it is that we are all in this together—the “we” enlarged, as never before, to include all human beings everywhere. From China to Italy to Israel, on factory floors and in university classrooms, at empty stadiums and overflowing hospital wards, there is new meaning to the concept of “human community.” The world is without question bound together, across every border imaginable. The coronavirus spreads so rapidly, strikes invisibly, and makes no discrimination on who it attacks.

I have read of a prison chaplain who would tell prisoners that genuine freedom began not from without, but from within. In our own time, leaders such as Nelson Mandela, although in prison, testified that they felt freedom in their souls.

For those of the Jewish faith, this Wednesday evening will be the first Passover when we are uncomfortable leaving our own homes, almost as if we were captives. But restrictions from without can create spaces within. There are universes to be explored in each one of us.

For those of the Christian faith, the Easter message of resurrection, renewal and faith is a most powerful one. Although I sense it from a distance, I do sense its message of belief, strength, support and connection to the Source of All Being. Likewise, for those of the Muslim faith, I understand that Ramadan is a time of spiritual reflection, self-improvement, and heightened devotion and worship

 Please take good care of yourself and those close to you, as we together take care of our communities, our neighbors, and all of God’s creation at our shared holy day season. May each of us find both support and joy in   our individual faith journeys.

Blessings,

 Chaplain Gary Atkins

March 30, 2020

Every CAP (and active/reserve military) chaplain holds their position only after being endorsed by their appropriate endorsing agency. This guarantees the chaplain corp, at a minimum, candidates who are well-trained in their calling. My endorsing agency is headed by a retired navy chaplain whom I have the privilege to know.

So Chaplain Elson sent out the following message to us this past week,  and it is a most worthwhile and positive thing to share with you all. It is natural that problems make the headlines, while positive events are in the background!

Friends, we can do this!!!

The reports are that the truckers are getting supplies to the stores.

People are stocking the shelves all night and letting seniors shop first.

Carnival Cruise line told Trump “We can match those big Navy Hospital ships with some fully staffed cruise ships.”

GM said hold our cars and watch this; we can make those ventilators where we were making cars starting next week.

Women and children are making homemade masks and handing out snacks to truckers.

Restaurants and schools said, We’ve got kitchens and staff; we can feed kids.”

Churches and synagogues are holding on-line services and taking care of their members and community.

NBA basketball players said, “Hold our basketballs while we write checks to pay the arena staff.”

Construction companies said, “Here are some masks for the medical staff and doctors.”

Breweries are making sanitizer out of the left-over ingredients.

We thought we couldn’t live without Baseball, NASCAR, NBA or going to the beach, restaurants or a bar. Instead, we’re trying to keep those businesses open by ordering take-out.

I think a Japanese Admiral in the middle of the Pacific said it best in 1941, "I think we have awakened a sleeping giant."

Give us a few more weeks (maybe months) and we will be doing much better!

We have a wonderful country and an amazing GOD.

Fall 2019

The cycles of many of our activities begin anew in September, as the fall season starts. We are getting ready for the new CAP fiscal year, which begins on October 1. Many squadrons, like my Seacoast Squadron, have fall recruitment open houses as we reach out for prospective cadets beginning the new school year.
Within the Jewish religious calendar, September presents what are called the “High Holy Days,” the holy days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. With their foundations based in Scripture, but enhanced by millennia of observance, they present universal messages of the need for self-analysis, reflection on what makes life special, what we owe to our fellow human beings, and what is our relationship to God, however we conceive the Infinite Source of Being. Only incidentally is it the start of a new religious calendar year, 5780 in the traditional calendar.

Being Jewish perhaps gives one a “double opportunity” to celebrate New Year. But since January 1, with the possible exception of resolutions, is devoted to merriment and celebration, I’m glad that we have a New Year to celebrate not only the blessings of life, but the opportunity to ask ourselves what is really important in life… and to rededicate ourselves to a life and to values worth living.

May each of us and our families be inscribed in “God’s Book of Life” for a healthy and happy year.

Summer 2019

Every Sabbath, Jewish congregations throughout these United States include in their worship service a “Prayer for our Country.” In almost every sanctuary there will be an American flag as well. I expect that this would also be the case in the houses of worship of other religions.
As we draw close to July 4, and celebrate another year of American independence, I share the prayer I say at my worship service….

“Our God and God of our ancestors: We ask your blessings for our country — for its leaders and advisors, and for all who exercise just and rightful authority. Teach them insights from your Torah, that they may administer all affairs of state fairly, that peace and security, happiness and prosperity, justice and freedom may forever abide in our midst.

Creator of all flesh bless all the inhabitants of our country with your spirit. May citizens of all races and creeds forge a common bond in true harmony to banish hatred and bigotry, and to safeguard the ideals and free institutions that are the pride and glory of our country.

May this land, under Your Providence, be an influence for good throughout the world, uniting all people in peace and freedom — helping to fulfill the vision of your prophet: “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they experience war any more. And let us say: Amen”

Spring 2019

I have spoken/written on the power of prayer for seeking healing for a friend, relative, or even oneself. The subject has, of course, been a topic of thought and concern for centuries. Books have been written about it… both praising the idea and denying is efficacy. But that is a topic for another time.

If you believe in the power of prayer, you understand that it is not like putting a dollar bill in a vending machine and waiting for the candy bar to come out. Rather it is directing your thoughts towards what you believe to be a higher power that, in a way that goes beyond the physical world, may have an effect on both you and (somehow) the person for whom prayers are being said. And, in an old military tradition, “there are no atheists in foxholes,” when the questions of life and death are very real, most of us feel that, at a minimum, it can’t hurt.

For those who feel it can help, the Civil Air Patrol Chaplains Corps has established a national prayer “line,” where requests for prayers on behalf of CAP seniors, cadets, their families, and even their friends can be shared… and hundreds of chaplains throughout CAP have committed to keeping those souls in their prayers. Obviously, this is voluntary… but if you have someone for whom you would like prayers said, you can email the name(s) to Chapel@capchaplain.org

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