Fear, Gun Violence and Hospitality

“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”  So wrote Julian of Norwich in the mid 14th century from her tiny cell which was attached to the Norwich Cathedral in England.  Yet for the city, and for Julian, all was not well.  The city was ravaged by the Black Death of 1348-50, which took the lives of 30-60 percent of the population.  Julian’s brother was drawn and quartered (a public punishment of the time) for his alleged disloyalty to the crown.  In spite of all the personal and communal misery, Julian made herself available to people who flocked to her street-facing window, to hear people’s stories of tragedy and loss and to offer succor to their pain.

And all shall be well.  For Julian, and for mystics throughout the ages, their faith witnessed to a divine presence which could mysteriously emerge through all the cruelty, degradation and violence that people experienced — and offer support.  It was a unique form of hospitality.

Which is what we all hope for in the wake of yet another school shooting in Nashville, Tennessee, which took the lives of three students, two teachers and one shooter.  All is not well for the families, the local community — or for the rest of the country.  Grief is our first reaction, which is directed to the families, yes, but also to ourselves whose souls have taken a beating from another incomprehensible tragedy.  Our thoughts and prayers are directed to a God who we desperately, if not vainly, hope can offer healing — for all of us.  Maybe not to the degree that all will be well, but so we can vbe more well than where we are now.  Our prayers are a form of hospitality — an important attempt to surround with hope and love those most immediately affected.

Yet whenever there is grief in the wake of something that cannot be explained, fear and anger follow; either of which can crowd out grief.  Many will say, and have said — “enough,” which is an eruption of anger.  Many others will stock up on more weapons, insist that more guns make people safer, and design protocols that encourage more firearms; which are responses of fear. When fear morphs into policy, the world becomes less safe.  And all is less well.

On April 7, the western Christian world will observe Good Friday, which commemorates Jesus’ death on the cross.  Jesus endured horrendous torture, and his public execution was designed to inflict the most pain, and invoke the greatest amount of fear.  Which was the Roman Empire’s intention.  Jesus’ disciples scattered in fear.

It is a gruesome story.  The crucifix, which depicts Jesus nailed to the cross, and which can be seen above many church altars and hangs at the end of necklaces around many people’s necks, was — for me as a child, a symbol of fear.  The image scared me.  As I got older, my fear at the sight of the crucifix was replaced by anger.  Anger over the injustice and cruely of Jesus’ death; anger that a goodly portion of the Christian world has seemed intent to lord the fear that the story provokes over its members.

But in recent years I have come to regard the crucifix differently.  I have been able to see Jesus’ love for humanity emerging from the cruelty, horror and pain.  To see that love is indeed stronger than death.  For awhile, I wondered if my newly discovered vision was simply a clever psychological dodge from the violence of it all.  But the more I pondered, the more I could hear the echoes of Julian, ” all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”  I can now see glimmers of Julian’s preposterous hope when I come across a crucifix.

Love can win.  There are many days when that seemingly grandiose faith-filled statement is hard to hold onto; when fear and anger and despair and prejudice take over.  And when violence — verbal or physical, is increasingly a first option of response.  But the witness — of Jesus, Julian, Martin Luther King Jr. and countless others, guide me to a wellspring of hospitality and love, which can wash away — for precious moments, the impuslves of anger and fear.

The world needs our hospitality.

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