Wonder and Terror
Friday morning my five year old and I woke later than usual with the cloud of sleep and memories of our midnight adventure of meteor shower watching still on our brain. I had debated whether it was worth waking up a boy who is already so busy with school and lessons and fighting off colds. Did I want to risk not going back to sleep? Being cranky in the morning? The dreamer in my won out, though, because I want my children to be able to experience the wonder of living in a big, beautiful world. It was worth it; before drifting back to sleep, he thanked me for waking him up to see the stars. He loved it even though the thought of meteors falling from the sky scared him. Naturally, he wondered and worried what would happen if the meteor landed on us or near us.
Fear and wonder are just a breath away from each other; they share, at their core, mystery. The shepherds knew this paper thin separation between wonder and terror. They knew, in a heartbeat, that no matter what was just about to occur, they would never be the same.
Thursday night, I looked at the stars in the sky and my heart spilled out questions about the beauty and the magnificence of the world. How can this be? They were questions of faith and wonder. Friday night, I said an extra prayer of gratitude as I tucked my children in bed. I looked out at the stars in the sky and I still shook in awe, but my heart spilled out questions about the awful ugliness of the world. How can this be? They were questions of despair and a longing for an answer to those mysteries that just ache and ache.
The mysteries of this world and of our faith are endless. Some of those mysteries cripple and paralyze us. Other mysteries inspire and move us. We pray, fervently and passionately, for the families who lost children in the terrible event, massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. We grieve and cry at the horror and senselessness, and we wonder where God is in all of this. (I have an answer to this, sort of, but I’m going to resist giving it just now …)
My suggestion for us today is not try to ‘make sense’ of this event. It is not OK; it can never be OK. (Here’s a helpful website: Dealing With Grief: Five Things NOT to say … ) Finding any sort of reason or rationalization for why this happened may help us understand more, but it can never really give us peace or a sense of security that something like this won’t happen again. This is where I, as a person and a parent, struggle the most. I want to teach my sons to be brave and courageous and to live for others. How can I teach them that when I am not sure of my own ability to do and be those things? How can I encourage them to open their hearts and trust the world when I’m not sure that I can? I worry about the world I will one day turn over to my children, and I pray for the damage that has been done to so many lives.
My responses – and most of the responses I have heard – try to make us feel more comfortable, either by distancing ourselves from the situation (‘Something must have happened in his life, some sort of illness. That couldn’t happen here”) or by claiming what needs to happen in response. I’m not saying some of these won’t help or aren’t appropriate responses, but I think the goal of those responses is to restore our sense of security and safety. And I’m not sure jumping to what feels comfortable is the best move for us.
Advent, historically, has been a kind of mini-Lent full of preparation and repentance … both an acknowledgment of the deep need the world has for Christ and the hope Christ brings. When we jump straight to the Christmas story, sometimes we skip over that in between period of waiting and longing for a sense of wholeness and peace.
I’ve been a part of a Longest Night Service for the last 3 years running, and it’s not a very well-attended service. But I keep doing it for a very specific reason (which is closely related to why it’s not super-well-attended), we live in a world that is broken beyond repair. This world is scarred and ugly, hurtful and mean. Each of us carry deep hurts within us throughout our lives, but we’re not always honest about those hurts. We hide them as though they are something to be ashamed of, something that makes us weak. More than that, we hang on to those hurts because we’re afraid of letting them go. If we put our trust in God and ask for healing, what happens if we are not healed as we expected or hope? Where then is our faith?
This is what our hearts cry out in situations like this with school kids and the gunman at Sandy Hook. Where is our God? Why would he leave us in such a terrible state?
People grieve in lots of different ways. I caught myself crying at the silliest things since Friday – Sam asking me separate his Lego’s, the boys uncharacteristically working/playing together, the baby randomly saying ‘O la la la … Hey!’ (His favorite song is Jingle Bells). And I have found myself getting angry. Unreasonably angry to my bones. Angry that the world is so terrible, angry that children suffered, angry that there isn’t anything for me to “do.”
The reason I keep doing the Longest Night Service is that I believe deeply that Christ came to heal, and he came to the world in a simple, aromatic (read: stinky) stable, born to an unwed teenage mother. Shortly after his birth, King Herod gave orders to kill all male babies 2 and under. (There’s a great article available at CNN. “Massacre of Children Leaves Many Asking
‘Where’s God?’” by Dan Gilgoff and Eric Marraopodi, Co-Editors of the CNN Belief Blog.) Jesus did not live in an idyllic time and place, but one also wrought with violence, fear, and confusion. This is a man, this is a God who can understand and empathize with the raw feelings of anger, hurt, and fear. Not only can Christ understand our pain and our suffering … God redeems them.
There are no good answer to why things like this happen. There are no easy answers for how to respond or solve these problems (there are solutions, they’re just not easy ones!). But when we ask where God is in these situations, I found the most helpful thought was offered up years ago my Mister Rogers:
When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.
(from The World According to Mr. Rogers)
There will always be evil and bad things that happen in the world, but they are not enough to overpower the Hope of the world and the change that Christ engenders in us. Please, take your hurts, your anger, your fear, your sadness … take it and own it. It is not a crime to have negative emotions or feelings. Then express those to God and allow God to move in you and in your life. Look for the helpers. Be a helper. In that way, we are loving all as Christ has asked of us.
Let us pray,
God of the broken-hearted,
God of the broken heart,
Receive our sighs
too deep for words.
In your time
by your grace
In this meantime
as we weep.
Hold us and rock us
with the rhythm
of your own
Prayer from JHarader at Spacious Faith