It has been challenging, to say the least, to stay on an even emotional keel this holiday season. The devastating tragedy of the Sandy Hook school shootings presented such a harsh contrast to the Christmas holiday with all its spiritual meaning, it was hard to know how to respond, what to say or feel.
Nevertheless, lots of people think they know, and are doing their best to persuade us that we only have two choices: we must take a stand either for or against gun control, either for or against 2nd amendment rights, either for or against guards with guns in every school.
And of course there are a variety of conspiratorial perspectives: the shooter was brainwashed by the CIA; it was a false flag operation meant to stir up support for severe gun restrictions; etc. There may be grains of truth in such theories, but I prefer the more obvious explanation. A mentally deranged person with easy access to a weapon of destruction is simply a mirror of the state of our culture: a broken, twisted, violent world lurking just beneath the surface veneer of affluent, civilized society. In this illusory realm we have an unspoken consensus agreement to remain numb to the violence all around us, except for the moment when it strikes close to home.
It is heartening, therefore, to see that there is interest in approaching this situation, as a practical matter, on a spiritual level. I have seen some remarkable expressions of support for healing with compassion and forgiveness. A friend posted this on Facebook and received dozens of positive comments: "When I was talking to my father about the horrific tragedy in Connecticut on the phone tonight, he said something that surprised me. He said that the only justification for such a heinous act is the hope that we, as a people, could respond to it by becoming more loving toward each other...he said, "Beyond the issues of gun control and mental health, if we could go further and become more giving toward one another, to somehow love one another more in response to this, that would be the only reaction that would at all justify such a tragedy as this."
There was also this amazing Facebook post: "It is beautiful that everyone comes together in such times of tragedy. It is my hope that these feelings of compassion could be an every day reaction by everyone, for everyone. Right now we cannot be sad enough, or worry enough, to change what has already happened. What we can do now is have more compassion for everyone's journey, and send our love and light to those who suffer in pain from loss of their loved ones. Perhaps this recent tragedy can also help us understand the extreme grief and sadness any parent any where in the world feels when they lose their child to senseless acts of violence. It is all unacceptable. Overwhelmingly hard to understand because no one can make sense of the senseless. The world is ready for a true shift in consciousness. I will not watch the media reports on the event, because it is unacceptable to me to use the grief of so many people to sell advertising, political points of view, or ratings."
Another friend shared the stunning, powerful statement given by Robbie Parker, father of one of the slain kids, and again got many thoughtful and positive comments:
I've also seen people whose response is to become utterly deluged with painful emotions, not realizing that this event was only triggering the expression of pain and anxiety they were already feeling about something else. Shortly after the shootings, I had to talk a family member down from being engulfed in a raging flood of feelings that was becoming overwhelming.
In truth, however, I was not far from there. Our dad was recently diagnosed with stage four lung cancer, and a number of other health issues have also come to light. It has been hard for us to come to terms with, and thus our emotions are already much closer to the surface than usual.
Events like this shooting pull back the curtain to expose the gaping flaws in our society as a whole, but they also make it easy for us to get lost in our own personal pain. It's a very human thing to do. Who hasn't gotten excessively angry with someone over a minor quibble, only to later admit they were actually upset about something else. So it is with grief, anxiety and the agony of feeling helpless, powerless to change the things that are going wrong.
The fact is there are things we just can't control. No amount of feeling stress, anxiety, grief or depression is going to make those kids come back, or make cancer go away. We may need to express those feelings, but to get stuck in them accomplishes nothing and helps nobody. In fact, we only hurt ourselves, and render ourselves useless for helping anyone else.
Nevertheless, we plunge ahead with the intense urge to do something, to make a difference, to solve the problem, to fix what is broken. But that is just covering over the deeper issue we don't want to face: no amount of campaigning for gun control, or gun freedom, mental health awareness, etc. can heal the heavy sense of despair, the spiritual emptiness, the loss of hope that weighs down our hearts.
If we really want to find a way to restore our ability to feel love, joy, faith and hope, we must be willing to do some hard spiritual work. We must be willing to step back, way back, and see everything in the widest possible perspective. That rusty old saw, "it's always darkest before the dawn," is counseling us to remember the light, even as we are stuck in the darkness. Not so rusty after all.
This terrible incident happened to very young children. The sadness of such a thing is unbearable, and yet we have other children around us who are there every day teaching us how to live in a state of blissful happiness. We have children who have survived unspeakable horrors who nevertheless come back to show us, the supposedly intelligent and wise adults, a thing or two about hope.
There is also the fact that the shootings happened during the Christmas season, when the genuine spiritual lessons of Jesus traditionally penetrate, for a brief moment, into the mainstream of the public consciousness.
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God..."
...Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?" Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times."In light of the tragedy, we are called on to pay much closer attention to their deepest meaning. We must learn that these teachings are not only for when things are all lovely, but are most especially important when things are going bad.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous...
"You have heard that it was said, 'eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also."And to anyone who finds this naive or can see no practical value in focusing on these concepts, we must thank them and continue on our way. We have seen countless examples, time after time, how the actions of one person can make a difference to many others. The simple act of extending humble generosity, compassion and forgiveness to another can have powerfully positive ramifications.
It always starts small - with a spouse, our family, our children, a friend or co-worker - but the ripple effect is undeniable.
I know what you're thinking. How did we get from gun violence to this? Well, I said this would take work. Sometimes these kinds of ideas need to be approached in small steps. We just need to keep asking ourselves, what do I really want? To win and feel morally superior, or to live in peace? Is being right more important than liberating myself and others from and endless cycle of struggle, suffering, anxiety, guilt and remorse?
OK, then, what if we just do something, anything that takes us in that direction. Just do one thing that shows some compassion, some generosity, some forgiveness. Help someone relieve their suffering; be of service to someone who needs help.
"The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted."We have to stop thinking about how this is not going to change anything. That is the ego talking, thinking that we must have a large, systemic impact to be worth something.
"Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."We only have one reasonable choice: to try, just try, to live each day with hearts full of love and compassion for things as they actually are. In this way we can bring peace to our little corner of the world. Lots of people are already doing this, all the time. Let's join them.
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