In the Wake of Unspeakable Tragedy
I lead Kabbalat Shabbat services at OneShul.org on Friday night. After listening to a full day of coverage of the unfolding horror of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary school. As the day progressed and the details became clearer, I had the same thought as many clergy of many faiths were having….how do I address this? In my case, how does one lead people into the Sabbath – the taste of the world to come — when we’re hearing about innocent children being slaughtered?
What came to me was to talk about a book, America’s Four Gods: What We Say about God–and What That Says about Us, because how we understand tragic events IS directly related to how we understand and experience G!d/dess. Whether or not our faith can comfort us in these times, is also directly related to how we understand and experience G!d/dess. It makes the events themselves no less tragic, either way, but it helps us to understand why G!d/dess “allows” these things to happen. I don’t think language right now about G!d/dess “testing” us or using these types of events to makes us realize we “need” G!d/dess are helpful or accurate. That is also because I do not experience G!d/dess as something that is directing my life at a micro level like this.
Even if I did believe this was some kind of test or punishment — now is still NOT the time to talk about that. We can debate all we want whether this is the time to talk about gun control or access to mental health services, but we should be even more careful of our words about the Holy One and her/his role in this event. None of us knows or can truly understand how the Holy One’s motivations. Whether you believe G!d/dess is “force” or a sentient being that is actively directing each individual life on our planet.
This is a time for kindness and love.
This a time to heal.
This is a time to love and be loved.
This is a time to acknowledge the pain it has caused us all.
This is a time to protect those directly affected by this tragedy.
This is a time to talk about underlying social issues that lead to events like this, both gun control and access to mental health services.
This is not a time to use words that are hurtful, hateful, or profess to know the inner-workings of the Holy One.
Tragedy like this one effects people on a broad scale. It brings out the best and worst.
The message of Hanukkah, which ended on Saturday night is that of hope in our darkest days. By lighting the menorah, we rekindle the light of the world. While Hanukkah has ended, candle light vigils will begin. Remember each time you light a candle it is an opportunity to bring light, both physical and metaphorical, into the world.
May we all open our hearts to the Heart of the Universe, and transform our grief, pain and rage into a love for each other and all humanity that can transform the world for the better.
Photo Credit: MSimonLevin, used by CC-A permission