Sighs Too Deep for Words
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.
“For we do not know how to pray as we ought.”
I have found myself turning to these words of the Apostle Paul too often recently. There have simply been so many disasters, tragedies, injustices and acts of violence that have rendered inadequate my capacity for prayer.
This week began with yet another horrendous mass shooting, this time in Las Vegas.
Lord, have mercy.
My thoughts this morning have drifted in three directions which have helped me to focus my attention. Perhaps they’ll be of some use to you.
- Don’t rush past grief. In my experience, in times of personal tragedy, such as the loss of a loved one, we often rush past grief on to other responses: handling affairs, making plans, etc. The same seems true in times of national pain and loss. The urge to “be productive” is not wrong in and of itself—in fact, being productive in the sense of doing the hard work necessary to prevent, as much as possible, something like this from happening again is a step we’ve never quite gotten to as a people. But grief must be dealt with sooner or later, and the longer we take to deal with it the more toxic it can become. The victims in Las Vegas deserve our attention and prayer. And, as we must say as Christians, so does the assailant. Taking time to actually grieve the pain and suffering and violence we see in the world is essential in preparing us to move on to a further response.
- Stay engaged. There have been so many awful events recently that rightly demand a compassionate response, and this can take a toll on us. Compassion fatigue is real. The challenge becomes finding a way to engage with the pain and suffering we see in the world without wearing ourselves out to the point of shutting down. One way to do this is to resist succumbing to the relentless cycle of news that drives so much of our collective lives these days. Tune in enough to learn what is going on and of any specific needs to which you may respond. But resist participating in what I’ve heard described as the “economy of anxiety.” Pay attention to national conversations, but if possible, find local ways to respond and reach out. For example, studies show domestic violence can be a forerunner to other forms of violence. Crisis Line and Safe House of Central Georgia does invaluable work providing care for victims of domestic violence in our area and are always in need of support.
- This has to do with us. The great 20th century religious leader and Civil Rights icon, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, once said, “In a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible.” What does it say about us as a people that these sorts of heinous acts of violence have become common at the risk of being normal? How might we confront and deal with our culture’s troubling obsession with violence? I can’t help but believe these mass shootings—not to mention the many thousands of other shootings that no longer capture headlines—are symptoms of a larger sickness of which we all are a part, whether we choose to be or not. I wonder how we in the church, as followers of the Crucified One, might be uniquely prepared to offer a voice in this conversation. If we are, it must begin by confessing our own participation in a society in which these events happen with such distressing regularity.
There is a deep sense in which the church exists not for us, it’s members, but for the world of which we are a part. This is true each and every day, but perhaps especially in those days and seasons that seem especially dark.
May your light shine in the days ahead, to a world in desperate need of it.