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Asking the clergy: How can faith ease suffering?

As more tragedies flash across screens of every type of device, it seems natural to think about those experiencing such anguish and wonder how they live through the pain. This week's clergy explain the cushioning comfort of faith.

The Rev. Jude Geiger, Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Huntington:

For those in immediate crisis, you want religion and faith to help ease them back to a place where they can believe their lives and this world are gifts.

For those who are listening from the sidelines, say watching a newscast, religion is a reminder that there is evil in the world, ways humans fall short. It is our responsibility to listen and

attend to it. It is our responsibility to build a better world. Religion reminds us we should be striving for a better world. Faith has to challenge us to be uncomfortable, so we can strive for a better world. Faith also should be a source of actual comfort, bringing us back to a state of peace, if not happiness.

How strongly one can lean on one's faith depends on the individual. Some people who have not had strong faith may find it in times of difficulty. I don't want to imply that atrocities have a good side. I find in the face of these constant stories of atrocities that meditation helps. I don't mean you close your eyes to what is happening. It doesn't mean you have to change the landscape of your soul.

When you are stuck going over and over something that is in the past, meditation is about quieting your mind. I tell my congregants to think of their mind, their thoughts, as a moving train. You don't have to get on. You can let the train -- your thoughts -- just pass through. This visualization is especially helpful for those in pain and anguish.

Rabbi Sam Krasner, Suburban Park Jewish Center, East Meadow:

There are things you will never forget, never get over. The atrocities of war, crimes perpetrated against children, against women. Yes, we have freewill, we have a choice. Just as some people choose to do good, others choose to do evil. And, there are those who choose to do nothing in response to evil. Sometimes, to do nothing is to support evil.

I believe very strongly in prayer, but prayer also must lead to things we can do. Histadlut, which means "that what you are able to do, you must do." Yes, you pray to God. Yes, you look to the Torah, but you can't just sit back. You must also be moved to action. Judaism is a religion of action. Yes, it is good to pray. It is good to learn the Torah, which teaches us about morality. We also must take action. Society must move away from devaluing human life, move toward taking a moral view.

It may seem like we cannot directly impact evil that happens halfway around the world. But, by taking a moral view that doesn't accept such acts, you are making an impact. And that act will begin to make you feel better, make you feel that you're not just passively accepting things. We must remember that God gave us this world, and we are in partnership with him in creation. We are responsible for what goes on here.

Sanaa Nadim, Muslim chaplain, Interfaith Center, State University of Stony Brook:

The strength you need to call upon to get through such things comes through faith and experience. When something disastrous or tragic happens, for the faithful person, a mechanism switches on and you go to a survival mode that includes faith. You can allow yourself to feel the pain, then attempt to understand the power that God has over all this, over all things, the power to make things better.

You also must hold fast to the belief that there is something beyond this moment, even beyond this life. There is another dimension, an eternal dimension.

As a chaplain and as one of the grief counselors for EgyptAir Flight 990, which crashed Oct. 31, 1999, in international waters off Nantucket, Mass., I remember counseling families after they had learned the fate of loved ones. Faith and prayer helped to sustain them through the process.

For those who experience uncontrollable and continuous horrors, such as war atrocities and catastrophes, it often is the power of prayer they lean upon. At times, prayer is the only shield you have to survive what you are going through. You seek the calming voice, the peace that faith provides.

Faith helps you understand you can live beyond that terrible moment, must live beyond that moment. And, once faith helps you understand that, you will begin to accept the pain of the moment and then begin to move on from it.


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