He said, "Surely they are my people, offspring who will not be false to me"; and so he became their Savior. In all their distress he too was distressed, and the angel of his presence saved them. In his love and mercy he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them..."
~ Isaiah 63: 8,9
It seems that the last few days have simply silenced my words. I have become paralyzed in a way that has allowed for hatred, pain, and even judgement to interfere with my own abilities to process the events over the weekend, and the images that once again have entered my memory.
In seminary, we learn that people in our congregations will die. What they often overlook is that sometimes, people are senselessly murdered for no other reason than they were simply present.
The first murdered person I encountered in my life came late one night while riding along with a chaplain with the Sheriff's department in Louisville, Kentucky. I can remember the familiar streets that I knew during the day, that simply became a wilderness in the darkness and the flashing lights of the police car that I rode around in.
Two boys had got into a fight on a street corner, and one of the boys had a knife. The two struggled and one boy ended up stabbing the other. He died almost instantly.
I remember arriving just as the mother of the boy who was killed arrived, and watched as police kept her from reaching her child, because her son was now part of a crime scene. She screamed aloud, and everyone present could feel her pain.
It took me several years to actually "process" what had occurred that night.
Just over a year ago I was present the day that a gunman killed ten people and injured over a dozen others at Santa Fe High School. I sat with a mother whose daughter had been shot. I sat with her until she was calm enough to walk across the street to another school to collect two younger children before heading to Galveston where an ambulance had already taken her daughter.
I sat in the nurse's office of the Junior High as the names of the dead and injured were relayed from the High School. I remember the faces and each gasp as the names were said aloud so that staff would know what parents to watch for.
Again another mother who arrived, learned her child had been killed. Like the boy murdered on the street corner in Louisville, this mother was not being allowed to be with her child because the child was part of a crime scene.
Over the weekend, I once again discovered something happening within me as I read the hate-filled manifesto of a killer who simply murdered those who happened to be present in another Texas community.
On Monday as I awoke to start my day, and began to reflect and pray as I try to do with each morning, I discovered that in the light of the morning, darkness had managed to lodge itself somewhere within me, and I became silent. When I heard that a friend and colleague had made his way to El Paso and was ministering to those where were victims and their families, I suddenly found myself praying that somehow he might not hear a mother's scream, or hear how someone's loved one could not be reached because they were now part of some crime scene.
While I know that during the time of Jesus, he lived in a country that was occupied by outsiders. Where his daily life was surrounded by those who were subjected to rules and conditions that did not allow for him to live fully into his faith and community. His role, of course, was to be Emmanuel, "God with us," but he was not immune to violence and killings. Before encountering the cross, he experienced the murder of his cousin John. Beheaded and his head delivered on a silver platter as a birthday wish.
We seem to be living with our hands in the air. Raising our hands, not in worship, but in the expression of pain, and surrender. As I folded my hands in prayer Monday morning, the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer began to swell in me, reminding me, "We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.”
First, I am going to be okay, but for now, I'm like most of the people I know, struggling to simply find the words to express how we are feeling in the present. We cannot tell those who have died that we are sorry that we haven't been able to recognize when our brothers and sisters have no other answer but to enter a crowd and murder innocent people.
Secondly, the emptiness that we feel now must be carefully filled. It is easy for me to be angry, and it is justified. The anger is not only part of the grief that we are experiencing, but exists because the whole world seems to be angry about something at this time. Taking that anger and focusing it on making changes is exactly what Bonhoeffer suggests as we find ways to become the spoke in the wheel of change itself.
Finally, admitting that we are paralyzed is not a sign of weakness, but in actuality, is strength. When we become one with our pain, and vulnerability, we welcome in others who also are wounded with us. We suddenly are not simply broken. We become a place where healing can begin.
We must be careful that the battle for survival has not become so “normal” that few people really believe that the world that we live in can truly be different.
We must continue to have hope.
For me, this is essential at this point. So often I write words that offer encouragement. I not only need to do this now, but also to believe it. Confessing our own brokenness is the beginning of our own healing, and for those around us as well.
I know that I am struggling to understand the world around me right now, just as many others. It is in this struggling that I recognize that the hands that I throw into the air are met by the hands of God, that continually pull me closer in times like these.
Stay in God's grip!
G. Todd Williams (c) 2019
Rev. G. Todd Williams lives in the Houston metro area and is a Hospice Chaplain and ordained Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) pastor.