Heartbreak Hill

I lived in Boston 25 years and walked in the path of Monday’s blasts many times. The first bomb went off in front of my optician. The explosion blew out all the windows. I want to be shocked by the inhumanity of it all, but I’ve seen too much of it of late to be shocked anymore. I am desperately saddened, especially now that the identity of the victims is public. For a large city, Boston isn’t a very big town. I know people who knew each of three who were killed.

I don’t have a lot to add to the reams of commentary and observation and eulogy already offered. Nor do I have a tidy religious frame for these things, thankfully. I do have deep affection for Boston. I’m as much a Bostonian as anybody can be who wasn’t born there. I moved there in 1984 and allowed the city to shape me and make me care about academic ideas and baseball and theology and clams and the ocean. I miss it. I wish I could help.

My former church in Boston held a prayer gathering on Tuesday. My guess is that they had a large turnout. I know that after 9/11 the church was packed along with every church in the city. I find it fascinating, and strangely comforting, that the impulse people feel following tragedy is to somehow connect with God. Rather than worrying about where God was, they go to where they believe he can be found. And then they pray.

That people turn to God in the wake of tragedy is an ancient and disturbing pattern. If you read your Bible, you get the sense that this may be why God allows what he allows.

In Psalm 78, there’s this line in the wake of Israel’s terror: “they sought for him; they repented and sought God earnestly. They remembered that God was their rock, the Most High God their redeemer.” (78:34-35–I know, I’m intentionally leaving out the part about God as instigator. That’s too disturbing.)

The context for the Psalm is a lyrical retelling of the Exodus narrative, but the part about seeking after the Lord in the valley of the shadow of death is appropos to plenty of other scenarios. However, if Monday is anything like after 9/11, the grieving people who packed the churches to pray on Tuesday probably won’t be back on Sunday. God knows life moves on.

Psalm 78:39 “He remembered that they were but flesh, a wind that passes and does not come again.”


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