I have never lost a close friend or relative, so I don’t feel qualified to comment on the grief that is instilled into the hearts of those who have. However, there is a grief that is stirred in anyone who hears stories like those that have arisen from Newton, Connecticut, or Clackamas, Oregon, or Aurora, Colorado. This resonating grief is common to every person. With it come confusion, anger, and a longing for peace and healing.
Bear with me as I reflect and stumble through some thoughts.
First, a song:Heaven on Earth
We need it now
I’m sick of all of this
Sick of sorrow
I’m sick of the pain
I’m sick of hearing
Again and again
That there’s gonna be
Peace on Earth
No one cries like a mother cries
For peace on Earth
She never got to say goodbye
To see the color in his eyes
Now he’s in the dirt
Peace on Earth
They’re reading names out
Over the radio
All the folks the rest of us
Won’t get to know
Sean and Julia
Gareth, Anne, and Breeda
Their lives are bigger than
Any big idea
Jesus can you take the time
To throw a drowning man a line
Peace on Earth
To tell the ones who hear no sound
Whose sons are living in the ground
Peace on Earth
-U2 “Peace on Earth” from All That You Can’t Leave Behind
As a Christian I believe in the Body of Christ, the Church, in which we are intimately bonded through Christ to each other in infinite ways that I cannot understand. I also believe that every person on earth bears the image of God, and because God is love and God is one, we are intimately bonded to those of other faiths or no faith.
For one of the classes I took last quarter I read Cloudstreet by Tim Winton. It is an Australian novel about reconciliation between two families—the Pickles and the Lambs, reconciliation between parent and child, and reconciliation between doubting believer and God.Late in the book, the Nedlands Monster appears. The Nedlands Monster was a real man named Eric Edgar Cooke who killed eight and wounded many others in Perth in 1959 through 1963. In the novel, after the Monster is caught, Quick Lamb—a policeman—finds the body of a child drifting in a river. The body turns out to be the child of the Nedlands Monster. This causes Quick to think of his brother, Fish, who was mentally impaired due to his own near drowning early in life. Quick speaks with his wife after he finds the child in the water.
I’ve pulled a kid out of the river before, Rose. When I was eleven years old. My own brother. I know how it feels. I know how that poor bastard feels…. I could’ve turned out angry and cold like him. I can see how that evil little bugger might’ve just…turned, like a pot of milk.
So you’ve given away the old good and evil? asked Rose ….
No. No. I’ll stay a cop. But it’s not us and them anymore, It’s us and us and us. It’s always us. Geez, Rose, I just want to do right. But there’s no monsters, only people like us. Funny, but it hurts.
– Cloudstreet, page 402
Gregory Wolfe, who taught the class in which we read Cloudstreet, frequently speaks of authors that shout or whisper about faith through their writing. One such author is Graham Greene. After I finished the initial draft of this blog post yesterday, I plowed through the second half of Greene’s The Power and the Glory. One passage in particular stood out to me.
When you visualized a man or woman carefully, you could always begin to feel pity – that was a quality God’s image carried with it. When you saw the lines at the corners of the eyes, the shape of the mouth, how the hair grew, it was impossible to hate. Hate was just a failure of imagination.
– The Power and the Glory, Penguin Classics, page 131
We are one body—a body that injures itself. But a body also heals itself. We are responsible to help the bereaved carry on after a tragedy occurs. We must ourselves stop lying, stealing, killing, and violating each other’s rights. We must not hate but love our neighbors and our enemies alike. It might take some imagination to stop hating those that do bad things and instead see the image of God in them. It is difficult to imagine how we are supposed to love some of our enemies (maybe it means seeking justice, maybe it means showing mercy) but I trust that God’s grace covers us when we love imperfectly.And for the wounds we cannot heal, we have a physician whose hands are constantly at work.