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  • Writer's pictureKimberly Wagner

Overwhelmed by Violence--May 25, 2022

Updated: May 26, 2022

11 days ago, 10 people were murdered and 3 injured in a Buffalo, NY supermarket in an mass shooting inspired by prejudice, hate, and the evils of white supremacy.

10 days ago, 1 person was killed, 5 injured, and too many traumatized as a gunman opened fire in a church in Laguna Woods, California, the shooter fueled by anti-Taiwanese sentiment.

7 days ago, a beloved and gifted pastor from my seminary community was found stabbed and burned in her van abandoned on the side of the road, allegedly killed by a young man she was trying to help while in his home offering pastoral care.

Yesterday, 19 children and 2 teachers lost their lives to yet another school mass shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas.

It’s too much. Too many lives needlessly cut short. Too much violent evidence of the overwhelming power of evil, hate, and hurt. Too many futures stolen by bullets. Too much terror present in the hearts of grocery shoppers, BIPOC communities, worshipping communities, pastors, parents, and children. Too much loss of innocence, loss of safety, loss of life. It’s too much.

It’s days like these that it is easy to wonder if evil and hate and violence may have finally declared victory. I woke up this morning to a text message from a former student (now pastor) who is being called upon to care for the people of Uvalde, seeking prayers and wisdom. Another friend texted me later in the morning to ask for prayers for her daughter who was locked down in the elementary school in which she taught due to a “ripple effect” gun violence threat. And today I saw multiple posts on Facebook celebrating the birthday of the deceased Atlanta pastor, only further driving home the harsh reality that she is no longer with us.

It in on days like this that I return to the heart-wrenching cries of Psalm 130:

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.

Lord, hear my voice!

Let your ears be attentive

to the voice of my supplication! (NRSVUE)

Or I find myself joining the chorus of disciples in the storm-battered boat in Mark’s gospel: “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

It feels like evil has won. And it seems that God, is, at best, absent or hanging on the sidelines waiting to see what happens.

But, people of faith, we have been gifted language for moments like these—lament. It is a language that invites us to be honest before God and one another about our hurts and brokenness, our questions and fears, our anger and our wrestling. It doesn’t require that we have all the right words. (After all, one of the first things trauma does is steals language.) It allows us to leave open the questions and cries, laying them before God and one another. It offers us words when we have none and reminds us that we are not alone. It allows us to lean across the aisles physically and metaphorically, to bless the brokenness that we carry and that lies between us.

And yet, there is a flip side to lament. Lament is enacted when all seems lost, but in its very existence is an expression of tentative hope or cautious expectation. The practice of lament trusts that there is someone out there to receive it—someone who cares. We cry “out of the depths,” but trust that we are not crying into the void. We ask existential questions, but our questions have an intended recipient. Indeed, the psalmist trusts that God not only receives, but will respond and declares: “my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning.” The disciples in Mark do not cry aimlessly into the storm but call out specifically to their apparently sleeping Teacher and Lord.

We, too, when we lament not only bless the broken places, but remind one another and ourselves that we can lean into the promises of God, even if they do not feel true or real. Like Habakkuk standing on the ramparts, we await what God might yet say, even as we are honest about the destruction around us.

In our lament, we lean into the promises of God’s presence and grace—the resurrection declaration that death and hate and evil and violence do not have the last word. That, while they seem to be victorious in the moment, the eschatological promise of the Kindom of God insists that they do not win. And that good news, while feeling perhaps more distant than ever, is held in trust for us until we can recite it or claim it or believe it again. And, so, we live in this tension between brokenness and hope, between death and resurrection, between destruction and redemption. And, through our embodied laments we declare that the questions and pain and brokenness does not carry us beyond the grace of God.

And, in the spirit of that tension, I offer a blessings from Jan Richardson as found in her wonderful book, A Cure for Sorrow:

Blessing in a Time of Violence

Which is to say

this blessing

is always.

Which is to say

there is no place

this blessing

does not long

to cry out

in lament,

to weep its words

in sorrow,

to scream its lines

in sacred rage.

Which is to say

there is no day

this blessing ceases

to whisper

into the ear

of the dying,

the despairing,

the terrified.

Which is to say

there is no moment

this blessing refuses

to sing itself

into the heart

of the hated

and the hateful,

the victim

and the victimizer,

with every last

ounce of hope

it has.

Which is to say

there is none

that can stop it,

none that can

halt its course,

none that will

still its cadence,

none that will

delay its rising,

none that can keep it

from springing forth

from the mouths of us

who hope,

from the hands of us

who act,

from the hearts of us

who love,

from the feet of us

who will not cease

our stubborn, aching

marching, marching

until this blessing

has spoken

its final word,

until this blessing

has breathed

its benediction

in every place,

in every tongue




©Jan Richardson ||

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