Dear Saint Anselm’s,
In these times in which we are living, it is tempting to keep our eyes close to home. It is tempting, and understandable, to focus on the things we seem to be able to control in the midst of what looks like an almost uncontrolled and uncontrollable world. So we might want to concentrate these days on cleaning out this past summer’s growth in the garden and planning for next year. We might put the garage or the basement in good order. We might reline the kitchen shelves or even take on the bedroom closet.
There is nothing wrong, in themselves, with these activities. In fact, they can be quite positive. But we go off the rail if we allow our entire world to be just that garden, that garage, that closet, that car that needs work. We do belong to the whole world, even when it is painful to do so. And when violence, grief, longing for better times strike the world, we are called to be courageous enough to let them hit us as well. Even when it hurts.
Lately we have been pummelled by terrible natural disasters. Multiple hurricanes. Multiple earthquakes. Volcanoes roaring to life. Wildfires on hillsides near and far. These, as we have seen and continue to see, are difficult and painful to deal with. In a sense, when we wreak harm on one another - human on human - it’s almost harder. Harder because we know that, for whatever inscrutable reason, reasoned or entirely crazed, one human being, made in the image and likeness of God, has made the decision to inflict devastating harm on as many other persons as he possibly can. And he has taken the time to plan, and to put resources in play to assemble the deadliest possible set of tools to render that devastation as painful as he can - for those who died on the spot in Las Vegas, for those still moving toward recovery in the hospitals, and for those who are plunged into the abyss of the sudden, unexplained, unnecessary loss of one (or more) whom they love.
There is no simple answer to any of this. It is certainly, I can say, evidence that sin is real and does live in human hearts. It is more than we need to conclude that, since the gates of the Garden of Eden closed behind us, evil has sought to have its sway in the world. And it does, too often. In moments like last Sunday night at Las Vegas. But also in moments when human hearts and minds refuse to open to one another, to seek to understand and to love one another as we all are loved by God.
On the spot last Sunday night, as bullets rained down on what had been a festival, human beings acted unselfishly for one another, seeking to shelter and, if possible, save one another. Stories of amazing self-sacrifice have been shared in the days since. There is evidence in this of God living in human hearts, of human goodness and heroism. That is just as real as the evil, and in the end of even greater consequence.
Sadly we seem often as a society to reach the border of that kind of mutual care almost as soon as the guns are quieted. Almost immediately we begin to hear voices intoning that nothing can be done ultimately about these humanly-instigated disasters. I beg to differ, with all due respect, for several reasons:
That conversation is not optional. It is absolutely vital. That is why, though it’s okay to be working in our garden or closet, or to have our head down under the hood of the car, even there we need to be strong enough to see the faces of the suffering, to hear their cries, and to ask ourselves what kind of response we need to give as individuals and as community.
Yours in Christ,
Church of Saint Anselm of Canterbury