Dear Members and Friends,
And what about the eighteen people who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them? Were they the worst sinners in Jerusalem? No, and I tell you again that unless you repent, you will perish, too.”
-Jesus, Gospel of Luke 13:4-5, (NLT)
A horrible tragedy has struck our community. One that has hit extremely close to home for so many of us. The collapse of the, still under construction pedestrian bridge, across SW 8th Street at FIU has affected everyone in South Florida. So many of us know students at FIU, or faculty or staff members. Within our church we have former employees, current employees, former and current students. The horror, the shock, the pain, the grief are overwhelming. And all this has taken place just a little over a month since the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, also a South Florida event.
Fragile things break easily. Especially human things – human lives, human souls, human hearts. Human things are not interchangeable. They are not replaceable. They can only be mended. Frequently, they are beyond our ability to mend on our own. Each of us lives with things we’ve broken and cannot mend. Many of us contend with the breakage that another person has caused in our lives. All of us were thrown into a world already broken by racism, sexual harassment, sexism, poverty, intolerance, economic exploitation, and escalating violence.
If our hearts and minds are genuinely open to the ache in our own hearts and the misery around the world, we will also recognize a deep yearning that all things – all the fragile, human things – be made whole. But arriving at that genuine openness makes us terribly vulnerable. We begin to see that we yearn for something that we need divine help to achieve. .
So, many of us avoid that openness by focusing narrowly on our own comforts and status. We anesthetize ourselves with luxuries, applause, entertainments, sex, power, or chemicals. Or, like the folk in Jesus’ day, we distance ourselves from the pain and tragedies of life by not looking, turning off the news, or by somehow blaming the victims – “there must have been something wrong with them.” This life-strategy will temporarily prevent the misery of others from encroaching on our personal enjoyments. But eventually the fractures within our own souls begin to catch up with us.
So what can we do to prevent ourselves from being overwhelmed by the tragedies of life or being turned into cold, compassionless people? Painful as it is to embrace the emotions of helplessness, grief, horror, sadness, etc., the first step to healthy coping is to practice acceptance. When we resist what is, we actually create more angst and suffering. Acceptance isn’t a matter of giving up or giving in. It is a matter of acknowledging the truth of the circumstances.
The second step we can embrace is the practice of being present. This is so important, for when we project out into the future, especially in reaction to tragic events, they can seriously begin to affect our ability to embrace and enjoy life. They can begin to immobilize us, so that we do not live, but begin to exist in a suspended state of fear, anxiety and worry. We then begin to miss being fully present with those we love, often those we are most fearful about losing.
The third step we can take to respond to the tragedies of life is to practice gratitude. The obvious part of this practice is being grateful for what is going well. The harder and potentially more powerful practice is begin grateful for the hard stuff. This requires turning your attention to what this experience is strengthening, growing or revealing within you. Shifting to gratitude requires stepping deeper into trust and faith that the Spirit of God will guide you through the experience.
None of this is easy, but then living is not easy and dealing with the tragedies of life is not easy. What Jesus teaches regarding those who suffer such tragedies, it that we ought not try to distance ourselves from them by blaming them, or blaming anyone. Rather, we can use those events as reminders of how precious, fragile, and breakable is this gift of life. Remembering that truth, we can allow it to lead us to look at what changes we can make to more fully embrace life, embrace those precious to us in life, and be fully present to them and to life. When we do there will be so much for which we will be grateful. Especially, the gift of life itself.
See you in church.
R. Steven Hudder
Pastor, Christ Congregational United Church of Christ
Palmetto Bay, Florida