We are living in the wake of another mass shooting. This one was epic enough to make the news cycle, but sadly most of them are not. We have had over 270 this year, and most of the time, it is not significant enough to take up much air space because we have made the collective choice as a country that we want to live like this.
After Sandy Hook, I was listening to Metropolitan Anthony Bloom and was reminded of the old watch words of the Orthodox, “Every idol will eventually demand a sacrifice, and before long it will demand the blood of children.” Since America loves to worship Ares so much, it’s not surprising that Ares wants some propitiation. At least according to some researchers, since 1776, America has been at war for 222 of its 239 years. Ares is hungry for blood.
Quite rightly, I think, there are a lot of people who are frustrated with religious people who are posting the phrase “thoughts and prayers” as a response. This is problematic first because our response to tragedy — whether personal or national — must always begin in silence. We don’t have good answers, so we type things like “thoughts and prayers” because we don’t really know what else to say. To those on the outside, it seems like empty sentiment devoid of flesh.
I would like to defend some “thoughts and prayers” though. They probably aren’t the kind that the people are posting about, though there may be some room for those too. I would like to defend the contemplative way of life. For the mystics, the problem is with the self.
If there is violence in the world, it is because there is still violence in me. If there is enough hatred in a man to indiscriminately shoot an automatic weapon at innocent people, it is because there is indiscriminate hatred still left in me. If there is a dizzying loneliness that has so overtaken a person, that he will lash out in such a demonic way, it is because there is a dizzying loneliness in me. I am to blame for not reaching out. I am to blame for not acting in love. I am to blame for hiding behind the sentimental “thoughts and prayers” that masquerade as true charity and service.
I only know one way of confronting those problems. That way is through “thoughts and prayers.” My meditation practice is precisely what brings me to action and allows me to confront and root out those aspects of myself. My lex orandi is the only thing I know that brings me into contact with something beyond myself that allows me to change.
It is the only vehicle that I know that allows enough space for a tenderhearted peace to grow within myself and to reach out to the world. If my “thoughts and prayers” are just sentiments aimed at some imaginary sky god, I’m probably not doing it right. If they are bringing me into relationship with the ground of being and creating peace in me that results in action in the world, then I probably am doing it right.
Problem is, I’m not so good at it; but I plan on keeping up my practice until I get better.