Keeping Silence in Tragedy: In the Aftermath of Explosions

Keeping Silence in Tragedy: In the Aftermath of Explosions April 15, 2013

Violence and tragedy has again struck. And it is hard to know what to say, what to do, particularly now that mass and social media have made us all witnesses to carnage and horror.

And it is even harder to remember, in moments like these, that the kind of violence our nation has experienced only sporadically is a day-to-day lived reality in many countries throughout the world. It has hard to remember, as we say that God is weeping at our tragedy, that God has been weeping for years, an unending, mournful wail at the mess humans have made of creation through violence.

Our tendency when tragedy strikes is to hover over it, to watch and re-watch it, to relive it as if we could undo it or begin to understand it. It is almost as if we believe that if we know the details of what happened, and we know it first, as soon as we can possibly know it, the tragedy will somehow be blunted. That the meaninglessness of the cycle of violence will somehow be broken, will be understood.

Many families, even those with young children, will have television news on today, at all hours. Many of us find it hard to disengage from moments like these. But, let us not be mistaken, as we watch wall-to-wall coverage and attempting to mourn, we are also being entertained. And maybe we are even turning our mourning into an entertainment of sorts, so as not to ponder the weight of the tragedy and violence. We are whistling past the graveyard with commentators, talking heads and Internet threads.

At least, I know I am.

And I really wonder how healthy this is, to burn the violence into our souls on repeat in such a way. Rather than plug into the violence as spectators and let it course through us with all its potency to warp and corrupt, perhaps we would be better served by simply taking a walk, cleaning the kitchen, chopping vegetables, holding children, shopping for groceries, living life.

It is not disrespectful to the dead and wounded to continue living in the wake of tragedy. It honors them.

We know the tragedy will be there in an hour, tonight, tomorrow morning.

I do not want to diminish the pain and grieving we feel in this moment and in the wake of tragedy. I do not want to this to seem a criticism of those people who are tuned in waiting for word that their loved ones are okay. But for the vast majority, we are watching this from a distance, a distance that hollows us out, that gives us reason to mourn, but robs us of the connection and community with which to mourn and make it meaningful.

I can’t help but wonder what would happen if we were to take a moment to be silent, as God is, before the disturbing capacity of humans to mutilate and to torture and to bomb and to explode that which God has called good, that which God has given God’s image — the imago dei.

Don’t mistake this as a call for silence in the public dialogue or as a call to avoid important political discussions. We need those discussions. Rather, it is a call for us to remember to make room to hear what the Spirit is saying to God’s people, if we have the courage.

I was reminded today in the midst of the coverage of the prophet Habakkuk.

The Lord is in his holy temple. Let all mortal flesh keep silence.

We are the temple in which the Lord dwells. Let us keep the silence the Lord is trying to create in us.

The Lord is in his temple, and he is weeping. Let all mortal flesh keep silence, so that we may hear the broken sobs of God.



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