It is hard to write about the spirituality of Lent with the cry of Rachel filling the public space we occupy.
A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more. (Jer 31:15)
The families in Parkland Florida, the soul-sick nation it belongs to and the members of human family anywhere who know about it are painfully penetrated by the tragedy of the high school shooting. The image of the pathetic, broken perpetrator, finally getting the attention he craved but not the kind he was looking for, evokes the sense of hopeless helplessness that we will soon contemplate in Holy Week. Nineteen-year-old Nikolas Cruz is not a Christ-figure but it would be a strange Christian who could not see Christ in him. In this incident, at the beginning of Lent, the Cross has come to us early, wrenching our attention away from ourselves for a while. It confronts us with the mystery of the thick darkness that any journey into the light must pass through and struggle with.
In the face of other people’s helplessness we don’t know what to say or do. We would like to help, console, explain but we are disarmed of all these means. Hardest of all – and yet most valuable – is to do nothing. But we usually escape helplessness through platitudes and talk of prayer. Uncomfortable soon with the tone of our own voice, we beg to leave and move on.
Bitter sadness seeks to escape from the prison of its anguish and loneliness. Increasingly in our affluent culture of fake freedom and limited opportunity, those suffering most intensely are offered least care. Without sufficient attention, and balm for the damaged soul, little can prevent loneliness from mutating into madness. Our human options in the face of loneliness are limited. We can deal with the pain by turning it inwards and destroying our own psyche. We can try to escape it by inflicting it on others. Or, with the love of another refusing to give up on us, we can, with difficulty, transform the angry sadness of our soul into peace and compassion.
The prayers of politicians at a time of collective tragedy may give some temporary, formal relief: even the most dysfunctional and shallow of personalities may occupy a kind of parental role for the people in a crisis. Yet, prayer without action on the causes of the suffering is fake prayer, a cover-up and deliberate distraction. It is perverse because it actually participates in and belongs to the darkness and corrosive deception that causes the pain.
Our Lent should continue in solidarity with the weeping Rachels of Parkland and all those other Rachels to come. It will not be empty if we work honestly to cast out the false voices and self-deceptions from our own inner room.