On May 21, I participated with Eleni Zaharapoulos and some Fine Arts students from Brooklyn College in a ritual of blessing for the Atlantic Yards. It was very moving. On hands and knees Eleni led a small procession around the site with incense and music. She asked me to make the Confession for reconciliation and to pray the blessing. And then a choir sang Alicia Keyes' New York State of Mind. It's hard to imagine at this distance how moving and wonderful the whole thing was, and I consider it a privilege to have been asked. (Full disclosure: I am a strong and loyal supporter of Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn.)
There were trees here once. There were woods and meadows and animals. They are gone, we removed them all. Once the native tribe of the Canarsees lived here. What form their violence and violations took we do not know, but we know that they died from our diseases and we removed the few who did survive. We took the land and we felled the trees and spread our pastures and our sweet little farms on the sandy soil, and we used the labor of our slaves. After some years we covered the ground with our houses and our streets, and the native animals were gone. Let their memory rest in peace. Requiescat in pace.
The railroad came and the streets were widened and we built our shops and factories and tenements. We paved the ground over to be hot in the summer and lifeless in the winter. The flowers and the fruits were gone, and the birds all fled. That’s what we did here, but we are the beneficiaries. If not for that we could not have come here. The loss of the land was in our interest, and the grief of the ground for our prosperity. We confess our complicity, and we ask forgiveness. Let the lives beneath us rest in peace. Requiescat in pace.
And then this city became despised and rejected, and it suffered the distresses of racism and poverty and violence, the long slow poisoning of the soil and the water and the air, the sadness of the buildings, the garbage on the ground, the evaporation of community, and the emptiness of love. And underneath it all a spirit of frustration, a spirit of bitterness and loss and unrequited grief, a simmering spirit of anger and resentment. These spirits have had their power here.
But then people came back with love, and people came back here with hope, and people came here with faith, looking for each other, looking for new life on this land, a city on a human scale, of small shops and of local enterprise and ownership, a city of people for each other here.
And then others came looking for power and prestige and wealth and fame. The Empire State Development Corporation had visions of empire. They wanted not community but evidence of empire. They used the power of empire over enterprise. They overpowered the small things that were growing here.
What they did here was immoral, according to the standard of the laws of God. They coveted this neighborhood, and they coveted their neighbors’ houses, and they did not love their neighbors as themselves. There were spirits here at work. The spirit of possession took over here, and the spirits of manipulation and deceit.
The media were used and the laws abused. The politicians participated and the deals were made and the payoffs paid. The judges did not do justice and the public servants were subservient. This community was ignored and others were co-opted, falsehoods were repeated, and people were removed and silenced. We were set against each other, and our motives impugned, and our persons insulted. Might was made the right. The ground was blighted by intention. Sturdy old buildings were demolished and lovely decorations were destroyed. The simmering spirits of anger and frustration were inflamed. And this is the desert we are left with. We confess it and we lament it. Requiescat in pace.
There must be truth for reconciliation. Forgiveness is not forgetting, but remembering and still forgiving. So we name these spirits of anger and unfairness and injustice and we tell them to be gone. We will not let them keep on having their way with us. Anger is just too heavy a burden to keep on bearing. We confess our own complicities, and we acknowledge our fears and our sloth. We grieve at what we have lost and how we have lost it, we mourn what might have been, and we bless what still may be. Those who will come here in the future, we set them free from our righteous anger and frustration, and may they be free from any evil spirits in this land. We bless them to be free and innocent for hope and joy. May the empire that develops here be an imperium of love.
We bless this ground for her generosity to us. We bless this land for her hospitality to us and her patience with us, for her long enduring us. We bless the people who will stand here and walk here and live here. May mercy and truth embrace, may peace and justice kiss each other. Who makes peace in his heights, may He make peace upon us. And say, Amen. Oseh shalom bim'romav hu ya'aseh shalom aleinu. v'im'ru Amein.
(For Eleni )