place in Las Vegas over the weekend, to say nothing of the anguish being felt in Puerto Rico, Houston and parts of Florida, many of us are experiencing despair. There are no words for such grief. Nor are there any quick solutions for America’s maniacal obsession with rage. So if we are faithful to the one we know as Christ, let this be for us a time of silence and lament. Not a mere 60 second symbolic homage to Las Vegas; but a soul rattling examination of our nation’s addiction to violence.
It is in our communal DNA: from the genocide of First Nations people and lynching “uppity” citizens of color, to a culture that celebrates sexual violence against women and the buying and selling of our civic leaders by the NRA (a once righteous group helping America practice gun safety), we must come face to face with the fact that we are a people baptized in innocent blood. New gun laws are not the only solution – even if they might help. Neither is more aggressive policing a balm for our collective soul. No, now is a time to grieve and lament what we have become – and wait upon the Lord.
Americans are not well practiced in waiting upon God. We’re not very good at waiting period, but we are inept when it comes to feeling hard emotions and listening for the still small voice of the holy within the whirlwind. God knows there have been more than enough times in our history for us to become experts in such patience, but we have chosen to distract ourselves time and again. Our favorite diversion is blaming a scapegoat. This not only feeds our blood revenge but keeps us from being still. We want to be productive. We want to fix things and move on. So time after time we fall into the time-tested trap of scape-goating another so that we never take stock of our own sin. We busy ourselves with illusions so that we don’t have to grieve and listen for the word of the Lord. Sadly, without silence and grief, there can be no repentance. And without authentic repentance, we will keep doing the same violent things over and over while expecting different results.
Our tradition gives us a clue about what this moment requires. After Israel had been taken into captivity by Babylon, its best led away in chains and the first temple in Jerusalem destroyed, the once proud people of God had to learn how to lament. “By the waters of Babylon, there we wept when we remembered Zion.” In time, Babylon itself fell – and Israel returned to the land of promise. As they were rebuilding and reimagining themselves after generations of pain and shame, the prophet Isaiah warned Israel not to get caught up in ceremonies that were self-serving nor activities that were self-righteous.
Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator[a] shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.
And what was true then, is true today: the events, the blood, the fear, the suffering, the shame and the impotence we all feel is the One who is Holy calling us to repentance. We know it. But first we must sit in sorrow and silence and take stock of the magnitude of devastation. Silence and lament awaken us to the truth and train us in humility. Grieving empties us of hubris and creates an opening for God’s grace to take up residence within in ways we can’t even imagine. St. Paul testified to this blessing after the death and resurrection of Jesus when he wrote: Now we boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope… and hope is God’s love being poured into our hearts by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 5)
So, let us not grieve as those who have no hope. Rather let us grieve in anticipation of God’s grace that will be granted when God is ready to heal and cleanse us – and we are finally ready to wait upon the Lord. This does not mean standing idle. We will learn to wait upon the Lord by standing in solidarity with the NAACP this Thursday on Park Square in support of Puerto Rico. Or joining those in Williamstown tomorrow (Tuesday at 5 pm) calling out gun violence. We must learn to own and then repent of our privilege by casting our lot visibly with those who are not powerful. Consider it penance. Or public confession. Just know that waiting upon the Lord has a personal as well as a public component and BOTH are required at this moment in time.