This valley of tears
My heart has been aching. Has your heart been aching? We live in a troubling world, a tenuous time. We see hatred and violence bred from anger and fear. We are a viciously polarized culture. We continue to forget that we belong to each other.
When a newspaper asked, “What’s wrong with the world?” G.K. Chesterton replied, “Dear Sirs, I am.” His is more than a pithy response; it’s a gem of self-awareness and truth. I want to learn that humility of heart. To recognize the gravity of my own shortcomings. If I have sense enough to recoil from the horrors of overt racism, how much more must I call to mind the stubborn lies that have their hold over me? How much more must I work to break free from my own prejudices, partialities, fears?
We are not innocent. I am not innocent.
Sometimes, I am wary of those who appear most different from me. Aren’t we all? There’s the homeless woman I see most mornings at Mass who wears her sunglasses inside and warbles the responses and slams her kneeler shut in frustration when the tourists behind her whisper too loudly. I avoid her gaze, hope she doesn’t sit too close, breathe a bit easier when she leaves.
There’s the woman who approached me as I was writing in a park near my house one evening at dusk. I clutched my purse closer, skeptical and alert as she said hello. “Will you take my picture in front of that statue?” she asked innocently. She was delighted by the result, and happily went on her way.
There’s the man who stands outside Whole Foods in a reflective vest, selling newspapers to help the homeless. One rainy day, I smile and say, “Staying dry?” but stride by quickly, lest he—what? Ask me to buy one? Want to engage in conversation? I have a fear of being imposed upon, maybe even a fear of encounter. I mentally give myself a pat on the back for my friendly demeanor and eye contact and smiling face, and just as quickly exempt myself from taking a risk, from actually seeing him. It’s like opening a chained door just the few inches it’ll go to peer through at the visitor on the other side, and claiming to be hospitable.
It’s not my sidewalk, and it’s not my park, and it’s not my pew. These people are mine, and I am theirs. We are neighbors, both literally and figuratively, and woe to me if I fail to love them as myself.
News like that of Charlottesville breaks my heart, and rightfully so. But do I also let my heart be broken by the suffering and injustice right under my nose? Do I call to mind my own sinfulness and selfishness and pride as quickly as I condemn the evil I see in the world?
That evil is rampant. But does it take us by surprise? We are fallen creatures in a fallen world. We inhabit the valley of tears. Here, we mourn and we weep and we live in exile from where we truly belong. We fall prey to sin, sin that corrupts and twists and kills. But wherever the source of greatest evil, there is the place of greatest redemption. We may have to wait until there is a new heaven and a new earth, and ache and bleed and weep in the meantime. But our growing capacity for sorrow matches our capacity for joy. What may seem like a cavernous abyss of darkness now will then be exalted, transfigured, made whole.
The people who dare to attack their brothers and sisters, their eyes blind to their victims’ inherent dignity and goodness, are, in essence, the same people who once drove nails through a man’s hands and feet out of bloodlust and fear. Who shouted, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”, their eyes blind to the piercing truth of His divinity, His very identity as love. Who, in fact, killed Love incarnate.
But it is not in the nature of love to remain dead. Rather, it rises and lives and grows. Gives life and draws out and shatters darkness with its light. Let us recognize our own failings, and let us love even unto death, and let us see that light triumph.