I know something of this pain and love.
I am the son of one of the victims of the last major hate-based mass shooting in a house of worship. Three years ago, a white supremacist walked into a Sikh gurudwara in Oak Creek, Wis., and killed six people, wounding many more. He shot bullets into my father, Baba Punjab Singh. My father still lies in a hospital bed to this day, unable to move or speak. Doctors say that he will never recover. In spite of this, his room is often filled with family, sacred music and the sound of prayer.
My father was a world-renowned preacher who inspired me to become a priest. He was known for his gentle manner and deep faith in God. He often spoke of the spirit of Chardi Kala – love and relentless optimism even in suffering. But I only understood the true liberating power of love when my father was shot.
For three years, my father has not been able to move or speak, except to blink his eyes. Yet he has not lost his profound capacity for embracing love. When I ask if he is living in Chardi Kala, he blinks twice – yes.
Watching my father, I have learned this important truth: Faith can help us endure any hardship, even the most unspeakable suffering. Faith does not mean we forget pain or grief. Faith means that we live free of hate.
Today, when people arrive at the gurudwara in Oak Creek, they find an unrepaired bullet hole in the lintel of the front door, and a plaque under it that reads, “We are one.” My father often preached about our oneness with all of humanity.
Last week’s shooting in South Carolina was an attack on that Oneness. So for Charleston, I offer a Sikh prayer we recite at every service:
“Nanak naam chardi kala, tere bhane sarbat da bhala.”
“In the Name of God, we find everlasting optimism.
Within Your Will, may there be grace for all of humanity.”
May the three small words “I forgive you,” uttered in a courtroom in South Carolina last week be an invocation of that grace.
We will never have our mothers and fathers back. But we can draw upon their inspiration to fight for a more peaceful world with love and optimism.