Guns and Lamentation

17 Jun

I want to introduce a new word into the discussion of guns and the horrendous killing that gun shooters inflict upon our society: Lamentation.

We are hurting—all of us—actual victims, families, classmates, teachers—our whole society. This is a time of hurt. Amanda Gorman expresses it in her recent poem, “Hymn for the Hurting”—

             “Everything hurts,
             Our hearts shadowed and strange,
             Minds made muddied and mute.
              We carry tragedy, terrifying and true.”

“Hurt” is pain and grief that something has been lost. One mother, getting the news that her son had been gunned down in Millennium Park, cried out”It’s like my soul has left my body,” a father whose son was killed in Uvalde, Texas, said, “My soul is broken in two.” Such comments tell us how deep the hurt is, how deeply we grieve. Parents grieve that they must leave the neighborhood where they have lived their entire lives, move to another city where their children can live in safety. Traumatized classmates require therapy.

Grief is loss that can never be restored, hurt that has no healing. “Thoughts and prayers,” words that we hear so often carry sympathy and wishes for a better future. “Action” is also spoken—pass new laws, limit the guns. In our current times, thoughts and prayer sound like mere lip service and action almost always settles for half-measures. Action eyes a better future. None of these plumbs the depths of hurt and grief in the here and now. Better laws and heartfelt prayers are good, but they do not put a parent’s soul back together. They don’t take hurt seriously enough.

Lamentation points to something different. Mourning, taking into oneself the hurt of the grieving people. It’s a very deep sympathy and empathy—both of which speak of suffering with someone else.

We may learn from the Latin American healing traditions, curandero. Chicano writer Rodolfo Anaya’s great novel, Bless Me, Ultimate, is a fine introduction to these traditions. This centuries-old tradition has been described as “radical empathy,” because the healer takes into herself the situation of the person she will heal. The healer establishes a relationship with that person. In the process, the curandera is herself transformed. It has been said that the curandera model doctors and psychological therapists today.

Lamentation can come close to radical empathy. It can contribute to healing this time of hurting. But it will require that we go beyond thoughts, prayers, and action—and allow ourselves to be transformed by relating to those who hurt from gun violence.

When God became incarnate in the first century, he appeared in Jesus of Nazareth, a man  of the hurting segment of humanity—Jews oppressed by Rome. He grew up in the world of the working class, subsistence farmers, hungry people, and beggars. He lived with people who were outcasts. He did not make excursions to do charitable acts for those who hurt—he became one of them. Paulos Pasolini portrays this most forcefully in his 1964 film, “The Gospel according to St. Matthew” and Gerd Theissen does the same in his novel, Shadow of the Galilean. Jesus was executed because he identified with hurting people—and called for changes that enraged the powerful people who benefited from hurting others.i

In Matthew 23, we read Jesus’ lament over the Jerusalem that put him to death: “O, Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings.“ This is the lament of a healer.

There is much more to be said about hurting, healing, and transformation. How to bring it to bear on our present gun violence is an even greater challenge.

(c)Phil Hefner 16 June 2022

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