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AIDS Crisis: Finding God

On the occasion of commemorating World AIDS day I am remembering coming to Philadelphia in 1989 and walking through the AIDS quilt for the first time. It was at the Armory on Drexels’ campus that the AIDS crisis hit me personally. While the whole experience was powerful it was seeing the little girl dresses and little boy play clothes sown into the fabric by grieving relatives that made me grab the box of tissues sensitively handed to me by volunteer staffers. I was a mother of a girl and a boy, so how could any family survive this loss? Then again, perhaps both the parents had already died or were dying themselves. All of them gone too soon. It is natural to ask where is God?

 It was years into the epidemic before President Reagan had dared to mention the words “AIDS epidemic.” The non-action and governmental failure to immediately respond was only one sign of our timidity about and fear of sexuality (for that is how it was framed.) In the following years I visited a variety of churches in the area and found only one that displayed 2 quilt blocks made for two of their members. But far more often there was a deadening silence from the pulpit even as I heard that in other congregations there was a deafening hateful rhetoric from theirs. Where is God? In the silence? In the angry hate-filled rhetoric of judgment?

 However, I watched as the lesbian and gay communities pulled together. They were has-been Christians, agnostics, atheists, and for those who attended church, far too many did not discuss being gay or lesbian with their church family lest they become ostracized. As secular communities they rallied around those who had been deserted by family and friends. Where is God?

 I saw many in the sexual minority communities put their lives on hold, lay aside their own dreams and sit for hours holding hands of friends who were terminally ill and all alone. I saw personal sacrifices as they purchased food and medical equipment and then paid funeral expenses for friends whose support system had disappeared at the point of diagnosis. Where is God?

A friend of mine used to say that “God is not employed by the church.”  And, in this situation it became quite obvious to me where God was to be found, and unfortunately, it was often not in the church. The loving Presence of God was embodied through the loving presence of humans who reached out in compassionate embrace. Anywhere we experience complete, unquestioning, unfailing, non-condemning acceptance, open arms of compassion, and even tearful empathy, we are in the Presence of God. God’s healing was and is wherever such love is to found, inside or outside the walls of the church, synagogue, temple or mosque. And much healing happened even though cures were, at that time, completely non-existent.

The lesson I learned was to never question the absence of God but to go where there is love. That is where we will experience God’s healing Presence. And when we stand in that Presence we will know we have found home.

May the souls of those who have gone before us rest in peace. And may we vow to be God to one another.

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