At a staff meeting yesterday, my colleague, the Rev. Heather VanDeventer said, “Oh, we forgot to send out a prayer to the parish about the shootings in New Orleans. We sent something out after Newtown. We sent something out after Boston. We sent something out after the explosion in Texas.”
What shootings in New Orleans? I asked. She said, “There was a Mother’s Day parade in New Orleans and 19 people including two children were injured.” And then I remembered, I did know about it. I had read about it on Monday, but the information literally had gone in one ear and out the other. It had slid off my mind like rice on silk. I had made some quiet, unconscious decision that I could take in no more information about senseless violence.
Was New Orleans easier to dispense with because it feels farther away? Because no one died? Because it’s the third one in a month? Whatever the reason, I had switched it to low priority, moved it off the plate of things I needed to fully digest. And yet…. there are mothers and fathers railing and weeping this morning. There are people who are taking to the streets in New Orleans, sick and tired of a Congress that is in the pocket of the NRA. It does beg the question, who stands witness when the rest of us turn away because we just can’t take it any more? It’s like the Faces of the Fallen, the pictures in The Washington Post of those soldiers killed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Occasionally, I concentrate on each face. I read their names and their age and how they died. I try to imagine their families, their girlfriends, their high school sports. Other times I sigh and turn the page as quickly as I can. Who will pray for all those injured and dying when we have wearied of it? What will keep us going when there is little incentive to be hopeful? Or worse, when we become indifferent? I have been sitting in this uneasy mix of anger and shame, drifting between torpor and despair, until the words of Romans 8 materialized in my mind in the middle of the night, a very wise voice whispering them ever so quietly into my ear:
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought. But that very Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. – Romans 8
Hush. Sigh. Breathe. Keep going. There is work to be done.