Photo Courtesy of Dalton Rushing
It is a strange thing when one person with a gun can so quickly kill so many people, terrorizing millions in the process. Violence is nothing new, but it is not as if a single person can eliminate a room full of people in thirty seconds with a sword.
We live in strange times, as they say, and you almost want a new revelation, a new scriptural text that will tell you exactly what to do in the face of this kind of violence, this truly senseless business of taking a gun and slaughtering faithful people as they gather for worship. The only word I know that comes close to capturing my horror and sadness is "evil."
I resonate with the nephew of one of those killed in the massacre at the Sikh temple in Wisconsin. When he heard of the shooting and the deaths, he told reporters, "It was like the heart just sat down."
I have written before of how to respond to tragedy. Sometimes, it feels like the heart just sat down.
And yet, the feeling is not enough for those of us who call ourselves followers of Christ, for as Paul says, there is a more excellent way. It is not enough to simply talk of these things, to simply feel heartbroken. When I hear of tragedy, I am tempted to retreat to inside myself. The world outside my body can seem so broken and complicated that I often feel as if I ought to just find the God that lives within me and worship that God. I feel as if I ought to sit in the comfortable reading chair in my study, reading books about how the God within me is mystically connected to the God within you, as if the reading is enough, as if in the reading I am honoring all God has for the world and for me.
I want, as always, to simply be in the presence of God without the distractions of the world, without the violence and heartbreak and unfinished business.
It is a funny thing, this inward turn. When all I do is try to honor the God within me without going beyond the reading and thinking and inward prayer, I find that I am not so much honoring God as honoring myself, for though I am certain that God lives within me, I am not as good at distinguishing God from my own desires as I would like. It is not long before I find myself worshiping a God who looks exactly like I do. While I quite like this God (I am fond of myself, after all), I am also quite certain that I am confusing my own desires for God's and there is perhaps no more dangerous instinct in all of creation.