Friday, January 13, 2012

Where is the light in the midst of Tragedy?

Our first semester ended yesterday, not with great fanfare, but as an eery mirror to the way it began: in prayer. Back in August, we began the 2011-12 academic year with a festive Mass of the Holy Spirit. Yesterday, after the second exam, our students gathered in the Chapel of the North American Martyrs to pray for one of our students whose parents had died two nights earlier in a tragic murder-suicide. 

Father Karl Kiser, the President and CPO (Chief Pastoral Officer - my title for him), led the assembly in a prayer service. We sang, we prayed two psalms, we listened to Scripture. Yet it was when Father Kiser spoke, it was when he addressed the community, that I beheld the true power of prayer and the grace of God. 

Father Kiser began by saying, "There are no answers to this tragedy." He drew a parallel with Job, who demanded that God account for the tragedies that had befallen him and his family, and God responded. Out of the depths of the whirlwind God responds:

Who is this who darkens counsel with words of ignorance?
Gird up your loins - now, like a man; I will question you, and you tell me the answers!
Where were you when I founded the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its size? Surely you know?
Who stretched out the measuring line for it? 
Into what were its pedestals sunk, and who laid its cornerstone,
while the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?
Job 38

It is natural for our belief in God to be challenged in these situations. "If there is a good, and powerful, and loving God," the question pierces the heart, "how was this allowed to happen? Where was God? Where is God? Is there a God?" 

There is no good answer to the mystery of evil. There are no words that remove its sting, no theories that neutralize its poison. My heart breaks for the student's family and I, too, must raise the question, "Where the hell is God?"

Father Kiser continued. Looking out at a body of people ranging in age from 7th graders to the most veteran teachers, he made the very powerful point, "We are to be the answer to prayer." When this family struggles for support, it is our hands that will clasp him. When this student falters, it is we who will bolster him. When this family questions if there is love in the world, we will be the love they feel. 

Of late, prayer has gotten something of a bad rap thanks to Tim Tebow. The way Tebow's prayer has been portrayed, that his prayers are calling forth divine intervention in order to win football games while many millions of people starve to death across the world, is more akin to spells and incantations than to prayer. Father Kiser rightly encouraged the congregation that true prayer is not magic, not empty words, not a disengaged activity. Real prayer forces us to roll up our sleeves, dig in, and to be the prayer we offer. 

So where do we see God in the midst of tragedy, where is the light? The light shines forth from our hearts, hearts that have been cracked open and pried apart by tragedy. The fissures and cracks of the heart, rather than impeding our love, actually gives us space for love to grow, to pour forth, and to flow into the world. Our prayer does not change God's mind, but it certainly changes our hearts. In love, our hearts reflect into the darkness of the world the true source of light that comes from the Sun who illuminates all of creation.

This light fades and is squelched not by tragedy but by cynicism and hopelessness. When we cover over our hearts and retreat into the cellars of our souls, the light is reduced to the faintest of glimmers. It is only when we make vulnerable our hearts, when we allow them to be wounded by the day-to-day travails, that the painful cracks appear and allow the light within us, God's life within us, to pierce the darkness and light the way. In the days and months ahead, please pray for the family embroiled in this tragedy. Pray, too, that your heart may be cracked, even if just a bit, so that the light in you may shine in the darkness left in the wake of unthinkable violence and senseless death. 
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