Lament for Tucson

This past weekend I’m sure many private hours and religious services were spent mourning the recent deaths in Arizona, and praying for surviving victims and families. Today we are all talking bout the attempted assassination of Representative Gifford – but what should we be saying?

We struggle sometimes with how to be with one another in the face of a tragedy. One common response has been to adopt this event as evidence for some pre-existing political narrative. But I think this response is at worst deeply insensitive, and at best woefully incomplete.

In the wake of this shooting, we can talk about limiting violence in political language – and we should. As the factors contributing to the shooting become clearer we can talk about gun access and mental health care and homeland security and whatever else is relevant – and we should. But first and foremost, we have to be concerned with the human cost of what has happened.

On Saturday 6 people died, and 14 people were injured. Among those dead are a woman who was standing next to her husband of 50 years, a 30-year-old former social worker, and a 9-year-old girl. You can read more about them here.

Given this reality we have to be able to turn to one another and grieve, and share the work of mourning these tragedies, so we can build one another up to believe in people again as well as protect society through political action.

Many religious traditions have a tool to approach this enormous challenge. It’s called lament. We cry into the wilderness to shout our grief, our confusion, and even our anger, without immediate promise of any balm but faith.

This week I’ve been praying for the victims and their families with Psalm 23…”Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” I’ve been reading John 11, when Lazarus’s sister Martha cries to Jesus (as I imagine, in confusion and frustration), “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

One of the most moving pieces I have read since Saturday was about Representative Giffords’ synagogue, Congregation Chaverim, coming together as she struggles for her life in the hospital. They held a healing service to pray for her recovery and speak of her goodness, and the Rabbi’s daughter cried “Why, why, why, why?”

Sometimes that is all we can do. We pray for a better day. We speak of what goodness has been in the past. We cry to God in lamentation for answers we know may not come, or that we may never understand. And we turn to one another, not to make a point but simply to recognize that something terrible has happened, and hope that it will never happen again.

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