A week ago Monday our faith was shaken by the horrific bombings at the Boston Marathon. For many who were injured and maimed, their ordeal is just beginning and the healing process will be as physically, emotionally and spiritually painful as the bombings themselves. First responders, law enforcement personnel, and ordinary citizens acted heroically, but may have lasting scars from these events.
What do we do when our faith is troubled or lost by tragedy such as this? Our faith has become a fragile thing in much of American society, for we often base our faith on a belief system that doesn’t allow for tragedy. We’ve been spoiled by our privilege, by the abundance of resources that we have, and by a relatively peaceful and comfortable life style. Most of us have never experienced the effects of destitute poverty, hunger, disease, discrimination, unstable or autocratic governments, war, terrorism, bombings, lack of human rights, disregard for civil society, and other assorted violence that terrorizes people in many other parts of the world on a regular basis. If our faith is based on an easy life, then events like those of last week will certainly shake the foundations of our faith.
Going back to the covenants of the Puritans who founded Dorchester and other communities in this area, we find some version of the statement: “We walk in mutual love and respect one towards another.” If our faith is based on a deep connection and interdependence with each other, then we will know that in the midst of any tragedy, we do not stand or walk alone. We “walk in mutual love and respect one towards another.” In today’s world we need this faith of accompaniment. We are companions for each other on this journey of life, regardless of what happens. And in companioning each other, in walking together, we get a glimpse of the sacred. For, we are all called to embody the love of God for each other and for all the earth. We are called to be the hearts and hands and voices of all that is love, of all that is God.
There is no doubt that what happened last week was a gruesome tragedy. But if we’re going to be honest with ourselves, we need to recognize that we live in a world where violence of one kind or another is an everyday occurrence; from partisan politics in the halls of Congress to murder on our streets to gratuitous violence in most of the video games and other media that our children experience. Our children are learning that violence and hatred are acceptable ways for people to gain power, money, and influence. If we continue on the path of violence, it will crush our hearts and souls and we will let the evil that we saw last week become more and more part of who we are. I don’t absolve the perpetrators of the gruesome marathon bombings of their behavior, but I do suggest that this level of violence will continue until we are able make it unacceptable in our society.
When tragedies like this happen, the first questions we often ask are “Why?” questions.
Why did this happen? Why did this happen to us? Why did this happen to one person or one family and not another?
There may never be answers to these questions that will fully satisfy us whether the tragedy we experience is from man-made violence or natural disaster. I suggest that “Why?” is the wrong question. The question I ask myself and also ask you is: “What do we do now?” If we truly are the embodied presence of God, the heart of love upon the earth, it is up to us to bring healing and wholeness to each other and to the earth. Hope is the religious value that calls to us today, hope for our future, hope that we can take this week and this moment as the wake-up call that it must be to transform our lives and our world into one where violence and the abuse of power are no longer options for us. Life is that precious, period.
We have been visited with an unspeakable tragedy, yet speak we must. We must raise our hands and our voices to comfort and support those who have been injured and the families of those who have died. We must raise our hands and our voices to build a Beloved Community where all human beings treasure and uphold human life and human dignity and where violence is not tolerated. We must raise our hands and our voices to reach out and care for each other in difficult times and care for all who experience tragedy. We must raise our hands and our voices to “walk in mutual love and respect one towards another.” This may be the only way that humanity will survive.
Rev. Arthur Lavoie is the pastor of First Parish Dorchester, Unitarian Universalist.
Printed with permission. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.