“Hey wake up! The journey would be much smoother and quicker if you would stay in the middle!”
The place in between.
That is the goal. From this place we can live in the awareness of our trust and of our fears. As my Spiritual Director tells me, “You can have a relationship with each one from the middle without being attached to either.”
On Sunday morning I learned about the terrible mass shooting in Kalamazoo when I noticed a text from my friend in Alabama. I was just sitting down for my morning coffee when all the others were still asleep and my phone buzzed. “Are you all ok?” That was all I needed to realize something had gone terribly wrong in our community. I would be lying if I said we didn’t consider having Cara just stay home with the kids on Sunday as if home were to be a safer place than any other. I would be lying if I said I did not feel anxiety all the way to church and especially when I drove past the apartments where the whole thing began on my way in. But as I made my way into the sanctuary I remember the words of the late Fred Craddock when he said, “Preach as if you know they almost didn’t come.” I knew that would be true as ever on Sunday, that many would hold the same thoughts about staying home where it might be “safer” and so I asked the Spirit to give me the words to preach as if they almost didn’t come.
As I have dropped our oldest off at school this week I have lingered a bit longer in the parking lot, uttering a slightly longer prayer than normal. When I had a meeting at the coffee shop I felt it strange how quiet the place was at a time typically full of conversation and full seats. Was it my imagination? I do not know. What I do know is that my thoughts have been disproportionately attached to the shootings from Saturday. I have read and re-read the news reports too many times. I have clung too tightly to the fear and have been found to be immobilized. Monday night’s interfaith vigil that drew nearly 1,000 residents from Kalamazoo was empowering, and inspiring, and hopeful and yet I came straight home to re-watch the news reports. I justified it as wanting to see coverage of the vigil but really I was recalling Saturday’s events like a train wreck from which I could not remove my gaze.
That’s what it comes down to. An attachment to fear.
Fear of what I cannot say for sure. I do not fear that this is going to happen again. It is a fear of that which has already happened. It is a distraction from trust. It’s like a crash landing on the opposite shore of the river.
We read from the thirteenth Psalm on Sunday during worship.
How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
for he has been good to me.
The turning point of the Psalm comes right in the middle with verses three and four: “Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death, and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him…” It is from this moment that the Psalmist turns away from his fears and towards his trust. Light has awakened him to the immobilizing power of his fears and towards the salvation that awaits him in his trust. I imagine him standing with arms spread widely and palms open clinging loosely to his fears in one hand and his trust in the other. And in this open handed posture he is free to live. His enemies have not ceased to exist. The difference is he has remembered that so also exists the love and salvation of his God.
It is only from this place that we can move forward in love from a tragedy such as this one; and in love is the only way we can go if we go with the God who raised Jesus Christ from the dead. We are in this season of Lent when he who we confess to be Lord walks the trajectory of the cross, the ultimate consequence of limitless love. With eyes on the cross of Jesus Christ we know that all the world’s suffering is shared by this one who suffered and all the world’s suffering is redeemed by this one who resurrected. So we walk with him, clinging loosely to our fears in one hand and our trust in the other with the proclamation of redemption by the love of Jesus Christ on our lips.