(Part 2 of Reflections on the Aurora, CO, shooting)
All healing is of God… Healing is not magic, but underlying it is the great mystery of God’s love… God does not promise that we shall be spared suffering but does promise to be with us in our suffering. Trusting that promise, we are enabled to recognize God’s sustaining presence in pain, sickness, injury, and estrangement. (From the Introduction to Services of Healing, Book of Worship, p. 613)
As Christians, we are fortunate to bear witness to God’s healing mercy in a broken world. And yet, as the above passage points out, God neither promises that we shall be spared suffering, nor that the suffering we do bear will be “magically” erased. What does it mean to pray for healing in a time of mourning? What does healing look like?
Before healing can occur, one must grieve, and as the oft-referenced passage from Ecclesiastes implies, this process takes time. While there are certain stages of grief that many people experience (acceptance of loss, allowing oneself to feel the physical and emotional pain of grief, adjusting to living in the new landscape of life after the tragedy, and eventually moving on) each person’s journey through grief is unique, as is the time frame for that journey.
I think the tragedy that was unleashed in Aurora, Colo., can be an opportunity for all of us to both examine our own grief (we all have experienced loss on some level) and to think together about how we support one another in our individual and communal losses. We can pray for the healing of our internal wounds, and pray that our communities would be healed of the things that divide us. Sometimes, the most important role clergy play is not that of the healer, but simply one who is witness to someone’s grief, who lets others know that they are not alone.
The other side of grief is the reality that tragedy often reveals to us just how resilient people, and communities, can be. I was reminded of this while listening to an interview on NPR’s Weekend Edition the Saturday morning following the shooting. On the program, host Scott Simon spoke with Tom Olbrich, the disaster response coordinator at the Jefferson Center for Mental Health in Denver. Tom provided counseling through organized support groups after the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School, which took place mere miles from Aurora.
In the interview Olbrich reminds listeners that a community response to tragedy is more a marathon than a sprint. People are numb and in shock initially, so while it is important to offer immediate response to those directly impacted, other people might need time to process the situation before they are ready to receive services. Olbrich reiterates the importance of normalizing the range of human emotion that arises in response to grief, and of letting people know that there’s not something “wrong with them” if they are having a hard time processing something.
Ultimately, Olbrich points out, tragedy can have the effect of clarifying our priorities and revealing our strength:
People can do very well and get through these things and come out of it on the other side with a better perspective on life and feeling stronger — maybe not happier, but stronger as individuals… We understand now what’s really important — how to take care of ourselves and how to take care of each other.
(To hear or read the full interview, click here.)
Top photo by Flickr user CaptPiper (via Creative Commons)
Lower photo used with permission via WikiMedia Commons