Once again, I can’t ignore terror’s accumulating death toll as I pray and brood with you about the horror in Nice. Once again, France must absorb a terrible attack, this time involving many children and families. Our mood darkens and anxiety heightens.
Unfortunately, the public discourse is especially impoverished in this age of sound bite hyperbole. Vapid popular culture has so overwhelmed our consciousness that we lack an adequate vocabulary to express the depth of our experience. And our politicians’ comments seem to fall within the range of banal, at best, to stupid/crazy.
When our lives are struck hard by crisis, our usual supports are rent asunder. Things we’ve taken so for granted, matters we’ve assigned principal importance, are exposed as less significant than we thought. Life can seem out of control, chaotic. We lose our bearings, become disoriented, and susceptible to demagogic hyperbole appealing to our fears.
Fortunately, there are places that access a different lexicon, words born from intense human experience over a thousand years that have distilled into our sacred scriptures. These affirm the essential grounding truth about human existence: God is.
If you’ve ever been in a sizeable earthquake, you know of the instinctual terror of the loss of the very ground you walk upon. But that lasts only for a few seconds. The sigh of blessed relief when the tremors pass indicates that everything is as it once was. But what happens when everything isn’t as it once was, as we now fear is the case? What then?
Then we shift our attention to a ground that lies even deeper, to the roots of our very life and breath. The scriptures of our tradition help us here. Indeed, that is their essential purpose. They provide an ancient library of the recurring human discovery that God is. That behind all things lays a fundamental order. In this way we find resonance with ancient poetry: “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary. …Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint” (Isa. 40:28-31).
Words like these were forged in the crucible of profound human adversity and tragedy. For millennia, people confronted with great crises have seen behind and beneath their experience a more fundamental order, and others who then followed learned the wisdom of their forebears that God is.
And so armed, their offspring can stand in rooted strength, resisting the temptation to acquiesce to our lesser selves. We can resist a paranoid tribalism that stokes fear’s flames making us jumpy and impulsive. We can stand firm in the company of others who retain a commitment to listening to “the better angels of our nature” and staying true to the character of our God in whose image all people have been fashioned.
The Rev. Stephen Bauman is lead pastor at Christ Church United Methodist in New York, NY.