Courtesy of ABC News.
There is a search for the motive of the Vegas shooter, as in any mass shooting. Part of it is that we can’t fathom an irrational act, but part, I suspect, is that we want to find a way to distance ourselves from the act and the actor.
(It’s a bit harder for me to distance myself from the shooter knowing that he graduated from the same Los Angeles area high school and college as my sister and brother and I and lived in our area.)
It’s easier when we can blame an evil act on racism or sexism or fundamentalism or political ideology or ineffective gun regulations or mental health issues, as examples. Did the shooter have an aversion to those who loved country music or just hate that genre? Had he been jilted by his girlfriend or did he have a fatal medical diagnosis or a financial downturn or a narcissistic passion for infamy when fame itself was unattainable?
Every reason gives us a way to exclude ourselves from the possibility of such an evil act.
Though we may never know his mind, we can search our own minds. What is my 32nd floor suite of isolation, anger, bitterness, and envy from which I rain down death-dealing judgments on others below? When I can’t seem to make “my” unique mark on the world, do I rely on marksmanship to shoot down the ideas, experience, identities, and influence of others?
What is my secret place to which I refuse admittance to housekeepers, whether psychological or spiritual or emotional? What weapons of hurt and chaos and destruction have I hidden there? And how have my weapons become automatic?
I’ve written before that I don’t agree with Jesus that the thought equals the act. “One who lusts has already committed adultery.” “‘You shall not murder,’ but I say do not even be angry with a brother or sister.” I believe one who does not give in to temptation is better than one who does.
But maybe I’m missing Jesus’ point. Even to entertain the temptation distorts my soul, disfigures the beloved child of God that I am. Many of us in this political climate want to return “an eye for an eye,” failing to realize that even that form of justice was intended to limit our retribution, not even the score.
I—and I believe each one of us—was “comped” a suite on the 32nd floor of our minds upon birth where we could wreak our secret vengeance on the world, even if it meant hurting innocent people, sometimes especially if it hurt innocent people. After all, we too were born innocent: it’s the world’s fault that we’ve been injured, ignored, and excluded. Somebody’s got to pay, even if that someone is simply one caught in our crosshairs on a given day.
What happens in Vegas doesn’t stay in Vegas. Those shots were shots heard ‘round the world. What happens in Vegas or Paris or Orlando, what happens in Washington or Moscow or Beijing, what happens in Puerto Rico and Niger and Kabul and the West Bank and North Korea reverberates throughout our global web and wounds everyone, distorts our souls, disfigures our outlooks, and disrupts our planet.
These thoughts came to me as I read and reread and read again Thomas Merton’s words contrasting two kinds of monasticism represented in Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov in Merton’s final book, Contemplative Prayer:
The conflict between the rigid, authoritarian, self-righteous, ascetic Therapont, who delivers himself from the world by sheer effort, and then feels qualified to call down curses upon it; and the Staretz, Zossima, the kind, compassionate man of prayer who identifies himself with the sinful and suffering world in order to call down God’s blessing upon it. … Thus the Zossima type of monasticism can well flourish in offbeat situations, even in the midst of the world. Perhaps such “monks” may have no overt monastic connections whatever (p 28).
We are in an “offbeat” time when we need monks like Zossima—and may I say, monks like you and me—called to identify with the sinful and suffering world in order to bring God’s blessing upon it.
Thomas Merton’s Contemplative Prayer is one of two texts for a contemplative retreat I will be co-leading for Columbia Seminary’s Spiritual Formation Program at Sacred Heart Monastery, in Cullman, Alabama, April 30-May 4, 2018, entitled “Beside Still Waters.”
Wounding God (Charleston)
What I Love about the U.S.A. (San Bernardino)
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