December 2020 WATERritual

Telling Love’s Story for World AIDS Day

By Diann L. Neu and Anali North Martin

Listen to the audio of our December 2020 WATERritual here.

Preparation
Have a candle near.

Call to Gather
Light a candle.

Welcome to this place of remembrance. In our time together, we will focus on “Telling Love’s Story.” Think of those you know who are living with COVID, with HIV/AIDS – one of the earlier pandemics that is still with us – those who have died of COVID and AIDS-related causes, those who have been affected by COVID and HIV/AIDS.

While this liturgy’s title only mentions AIDS, we are in the midst of the COVID pandemic, and while COVID and HIV/AIDS are very different, they are both pandemics and they affect us all, living and dying.

These beloved ones are with us in this circle now, and our circle is growing. Remembering them reminds us that we are all people living and dying in a world of prejudice, of fear, of death and disease, of life and healing. COVID, like AIDS, has changed our lives individually and collectively, country to country.

December 1st is World AIDS Day, held to unite in the fight against HIV/AIDS and remember those who have died. It originated at the 1988 World Summit of Ministers of Health on Programs for AIDS Prevention. Since then, every year United Nations agencies, governments, and civil society join together to campaign around specific themes related to AIDS. Will we have something like that with COVID?

COVID-19 has reminded us, again, how communal health is intersectional – just take a look at vaccine distribution – involving racial, gender, ability, and economic inequalities. We are called to respond with love and compassion in the face of stigma and ignorance. For this ritual, we keep in mind the call of the United Nations for “Global Solidarity, Shared Responsibility” to overcome not only COVID-19, but also AIDS – another global pandemic that is still with us nearly 40 years after it emerged. It’s amazing what united us all, person to person and country to country. We unite to overcome not only COVID, but AIDS and any global pandemic that is going to rise.

While the victims of COVID-19 are not being ignored as those of HIV/AIDS were in the early years, and some still are, we hold them all in prayer and remembrance today, seeing the parallels in these health crises that have changed the make-up of our world.

Our beloved friends carry or have carried in their bodies these debilitating diseases. Some have been discriminated against, most have been loved deeply, but all of their lives have been changed by these diseases. Each has surely felt anger and pain, hope and fear, support and loneliness. They are here with us now, reminding us that we must respond to COVID, AIDS, and all pandemics with love, tears, rage, compassion, and hope.

How are we responding when people we love get sick and die, when our lives are changed by health crises, when fiction disguises itself as fact? Our gathering tonight is one response. Let us quiet ourselves, take a breath of solidarity, and remember.

Song
“They are Falling All Around Me” by Bernice Johnson Reagon, performed by Sweet Honey in the Rock

They are falling all around me, (3x)
The strongest leaves of my tree.

Every paper brings the news that (3x)
The teachers of my sounds are moving on.

Death it comes and rests so heavy, (3x)
Your face I’ll never see no more.

But you’re not really going to leave me. (3x)
It’s your path I walk.
It’s your song I sing.
It’s your load I take on.
It’s your air I breathe.
It’s the record you set that makes me go on.
It’s your strength that helps me stand.
You’re not really going to leave me.

I will try to sing my song right. (3x)
Be sure to let me hear from you.

Poem
“The Concert” by Ken Cierpial who died with AIDS October 23, 1992.

For my soulmate, Bob Canavello

I have learned how to learn,
How to read,
How to practice.

But today, I am getting ready for my life’s performance
By forgetting everything I know
And letting everything go.

Look! How I am now dancing between the notes
Of the music that my soul plays!

Song Refrain
Sound a chime.
They are falling all around me, (3x)
The strongest leaves / of my tree.

Poem
“Wish” by Erika Fine of Brookline, Mass., from The New York Times, 2020

The weeks go by, the fourth, the fifth,
And normalcy’s become a myth.
I want to hug, I want to hold,
I want this deadly scourge controlled.
I want to walk amidst a crowd.
I want to lift this morbid shroud.
I sit, sequestered in my home,
And yearn to mingle, travel, roam.
My energy is out of whack —
I want my normal problems back.

Song Refrain
Sound a chime.
They are falling all around me, (3x)
The strongest leaves / of my tree.

Reflection | Sharing
HIV/AIDS affects all of us and takes us to places where we would not dare to go. COVID has completely changed our day-to-day lives along with our understanding of safety, health, and community. Think about what you heard in the poems and songs. Let us take a few moments of quiet to reflect on these questions:

How is HIV/AIDS affecting you? How is COVID affecting you? What is the love story you tell? What would you want on your quilt panel or headstone when you die?

After a quiet time, I will invite us to share our thoughts and feelings with this community in the chat.

Prayers of the Faithful
Compassionate Holy One, open our hearts, minds, and hands so that we may connect ourselves to the global community responding to COVID-19 and HIV/AIDS as we pray:

We remember all those women, men, and children in this country and around the world who are living with HIV/AIDS.
Response: Justice demands that we remember and respond with compassion.

We remember all who care for people living and dying in their homes, in hospitals and hospices, in nursing homes, and support centers.
Response: Justice demands that we remember and respond with compassion.

We remember all who are involved in research and health care, that they receive adequate rest, protection, and appreciation.
Response: Justice demands that we remember and respond with compassion.

We remember those on the front lines, the essential workers in child care and education, in agriculture and food production, in grocery stores, in trade work and utility management, in transportation.
Response: Justice demands that we remember and respond with compassion.

We remember those who have lost their jobs and those who have been evicted.
Response: Justice demands that we remember and respond with compassion.

We remember all parents, partners, families, and children who are left mourning for their loved ones.
Response: Justice demands that we remember and respond with compassion.

Lighting Candles
One person takes a candle, lights it, and says:

I light a candle of _______ (i.e. hope).

Take your candle, light it, and type in the chat the word that completes the sentence, “I light a candle of _____ (i.e. forgiveness, thanks, sorrow).”’

Prayer of Hope
When all candles are lit:
We bring together many candles, many lights.
As those who keep the night watch await the dawn,
We remain vigilant,
Until a cure for COVID and HIV/AIDS is found,
Until those dying with COVID and HIV/AIDS are comforted,
Until truth sets us free,
Until love drives out injustice,
Until compassion reigns,
We shall not give up the fight.

Song
“We Shall Not Give Up the Fight” South African Freedom Song sung by Anam Cara

We shall not give up the fight.
We have only started. (3x)
Together we’ll have victory,
Hand holding hand. (3x)
Together we’ll have victory,
Hand holding hand. (3x)
Never, ever put to flight,
We are bound to win. (3x)
We shall not give up the fight …

Take Action
Let us keep our candles lit, metaphorically, by putting our prayer into action this month. Here are some possible ways:

  • Learn how HIV is transmitted, how it can be forestalled, and how people around the world are living with it.
  • Follow the COVID vaccine distribution and HIV vaccine development.
  • Treat those living with COVID or HIV with kindness, respect, and compassion.
  • Wear a red ribbon, the universal symbol of HIV mindfulness and support.
  • Participate in a candlelight vigil in your community, or organize one with singers, musicians, dancers, poets, storytellers, and religious leaders.
  • Watch the movie Bending the Arc, available on Netflix, which tells the story of Partners In Health’s early years and the global movement for health justice.

Sending Forth
Let us open our circle of support and compassion now.
Let us go forth to respond to all health crises with love, tears, rage, compassion, hope, and action.
Since we cannot give each other comforting hugs of peace and love, wrap your arms around yourself and squeeze, giving yourself a bit of comfort and support.

Closing Song
“Keep on Moving Forward/Sigamos Adelante” by Emma’s Revolution

Keep on moving forward (x3)
Never turning back (x2)

Siempre Adelante (x3)
Sin volver atrás (x2)

Keep on loving boldly (x3)
Never turning back (x2)

Amaremos con passion (x3)
Sin volver atrás (x2)

Reach across our borders (x3)
Never turning back (x2)

Vivamos sin fronteras (x3)
Sin volver atrás (x2)

Reunite the family (x3)
Never turning back (x2)

Familias reunidas (x3)
Sin volver atrás (x2)

Keep on moving forward (x3)
Never turning back (x2)

Siempre Adelante (x3)
Sin volver atrás (x2)

ⓒ 2020 Diann L. Neu, dneu@hers.com, adapted from Stirring WATERS: Feminist Liturgies for Justice