It’s been another week of national and international devastation – countless lives destroyed in Syria, an ever rising number of people dead as storms hit Mexico, 8 lives lost to the fury of floods in Colorado, 12 killed in a random attack at the Washington Navy Yard. We’re slammed by overwhelming loss as again we struggle with the “why” of our collective grief.
And with media saturation that seeps into every crevice of detail, it’s the word “mass” that always grabs my attention - “mass slaying”, “mass attack”, “mass destruction”. While these designations describe a certain scope, there’s also a gaping emotional void when victims of violence, weather events, and oppression are lumped together in the category of “mass”.
In response to the sweeping generalities of “mass”, we’re called to think and feel beyond the collective statistics of large-scale events of destruction with reverence for life and spiritual respect for the mystery of death. As the loving, caring beings God created us to be we join hands and hearts to grieve the loss of human life - each as an individual,a living, breathing soul - fathers, mothers, children, sons, daughters, wives, husbands, and every other relationship of spirit and bond that connect us to each other.
We think for a moment, too, about the impact of unexpected, unexplainable, sudden loss on those who survive. Not only family members, but friends, colleagues, neighbors, school friends, church communities. The ripple effect of loss is exponential – for every person included in the “mass” there are hundreds, perhaps even thousands whose lives are unalterably changed by the cruel, untimely death of one they know and love.
Only yesterday I had the opportunity to sit for a quiet hour with a man whose wife died recently. In a note of appreciation for some books I’d sent him he said, “I am heartbroken”. His office is on the same floor as mine, I’ve seen him in the halls over the years, yet I’d never said more than “hello” or exchanged a few pleasantries. I didn’t really know him, but as I listened to his outpouring of heartbreak, I was struck again by the power of our individual stories. His was about a great love and a great loss after 53 years of marriage. His was a story of humble beginnings, hard work, and success. His was a story of family disappointment with hope for restoration. We all have some version of a similar story because we’re alive, because we’re flawed yet wonderfully made human beings, “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14 NRSV).
When inexplicable destruction destroys an individual life there’s no “mass”. We pause rather to consider the powerful story of each unique human being. We honor the meaning and individual value of each life created for a specific, God-given purpose. We pray that God will comfort those who grieve. We pray that God will give to those whose hearts are broken strength and courage both now and in the days ahead. We pray that God will overcome the power of destruction through the triumph of God’s eternal, infinite goodness.
No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.
1 Corinthians 10:13 NRSV
Keep me this day, O God, in the mystery of your power. Amen.