Saturday, July 28, 2012

Cry out…

I’m not sure why, when terrible things happen, many play the ‘proximity game.’ But it happens. Someone says, “Did you hear about (insert terrible news story here)?” Another says, “I’ve got an uncle whose co-worker’s daughter lives nearby…” Or something. Case in point: In 1999, two gunmen opened fire on students at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. I didn’t attend Columbine, knew few, in fact, who did. Yet for years after, whenever Columbine was mentioned, I’d make certain to point out that Littleton was my hometown. Did I think my ‘proximity’ gave me special insight into the tragedy? Did I unconsciously presume I had greater right to grieve? Maybe I sought prestige in such conversations, since I’d “been nearby”? Perhaps I had little else to say, so I just said, “I lived there.”

Honestly, in the face of tragedy, proper words don’t exist. Whether you went through it, know someone who did, or simply read about it, I don’t believe there’s a sufficient response to unexpected suffering. So ‘playing’ what I’ve dubbed “the proximity game” isn’t bad or insensitive. Repeating well-worn clich├ęs about “things happen” or “time will heal” isn’t terrible. It’s just not enough. Nothing’s ever enough. Not when evil reaches out to extinguish light. Not when goodness gets shattered.

Presumably you’ve guessed that I’m writing this in response to another mass shooting in Colorado. Last Friday, a troubled young man shot 71 people in a movie theatre, killing 12. Predictably, many (myself included) have spent time since asking, “Why?” Why did he want to kill? Why couldn’t he be stopped? Why would God create a world where such tragedy is even possible?

Again, I’m sure I don’t know why we ask why. But I wonder if this search for answers comes from a longing to reestablish control. Hoping fervently that life is (at least, ought to be) always good and fair, these things knock us collectively off bearing. So, as if the grief of multiple lost lives isn’t enough, we’re faced with thoughts we find terrifying: That randomness exits; that evil somehow happens. Perhaps, we tell ourselves, if we find a satisfying answer to “Why,” we’ll feel more in control, less threatened by the world’s sudden instability. But the truth seems to be that no words are adequate for such a task.

At least, no explanatory words can sufficiently respond to tragedy. But our religious tradition does model other ways to react. Throughout the Hebrew Bible, and in stories of Jesus’ torture and death, our faithful forbearers sought solace in lamentation. The thinking went that, when confronted with gross injustice, violent tyranny, tragedy and loss, at least people could cry out to God. Could lament and wail, bellow and express their deep sadness and unease. This wouldn’t solve the problems, but it would keep memories alive. Indeed, for some of Scripture’s writers who endured tragedy and oppression, their cultures sought their silence in the face of terrible events. As if to say, “Don’t say anything. We, the powers that be, have control,” Scripture’s writers faced pressure to bear their burdens by shutting up.

But to say nothing, to not pass on memories of your pain, that’s another way of letting the perpetrators of tragedy prevail. Lament, on the other hand, requires courage in the midst of pain, perseverance through sadness. Conviction that what is, shouldn’t be; that we can, and should, work to make life better for all. It’s not a sufficient answer to “why,” not an all-healing balm. But lament’s a necessary response to tragedy, if we seek to overcome.

Grace and Peace,

P.S.- This week’s spiritual practice is petitionary prayer. Think of something outside your life that you find disturbing. Prayerfully imagine what those involved are going through, what troubles they endure. And without pretending God will simply do whatever you ask, still, name what you’d wish would change, if it was you struggling. This builds compassion in our spirits, and deeper connection with other children of God. And who knows? Perhaps God will reveal how you can become an answer to your own prayer
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