Three weeks have passed since Dylann Storm Roof killed nine people at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, and I cannot stop placing myself in the middle of that Bible study.
Bible studies provide time and space for contemplation. They offer guided meditation, academic exercise, and community bonding, all in one construct. To think that a man, a stranger, sat in the participants' midst for an entire sixty minutes before opening fire boggles my mind. Did the environment of devotion and love move him at all? Did Mother Emanuel's community sway him, even for a second, to reconsider his actions? Did an opportunity for grace present itself to him? Or was he so rotten, so sodden with hate, rage, and pain, that not the smallest chink of light got through?
I will never know, of course, because I am not Dylann Storm Roof. I was not sitting in the church that day listening the words they were poring over. I do not know how hard God was beating against his rib cage, trying to push aside the pitch-dark fury, struggling to reach Roof's core humanity.
But what I can do instead is turn the questions on myself. Whenever the world pours forth such tragedies -- when we can longer turn a blind eye to the worst elements of our shared humanity -- I force myself to ask, "What hate am I carrying? What prejudice? What fear?"
In essence, how am I failing to love?
|"Love will always win." Photo by Matt Drobnik, Flickr|
Because the one rule above all is love your neighbor as yourself. And it's the #1 rule because it is the most difficult. It both draws on our natural goodness (for yes, I believe people are fundamentally good) and assaults our learned behaviors. So we end up in a constant war within ourselves, nature vs. nurture, joy vs. fear, whisper vs. shout.
Why are we not love to and for each other?
Love your neighbor, even when he is wrong.
Love your neighbor, even when she scares you.
Love your neighbor, even when you hate them.
But guns are easier. More expedient to use. More expedient to blame. When what we must really do is live out love, even if we don't yet feel it.
Prayer #287: No Words
I have no words left
none to ease the pain
none to soothe the grief
none to stop the violence
except for the hardest ones of all:
I love you
I love You