Wednesday, October 04, 2006

"Our Heart is Restless..."

There's a cynical part of me that keeps wondering if some journalist will come up with the headline "trouble in paradise" regarding the terrible tragedy at the Amish school-house in Paradise, Pennsylvania yesterday. There does seem to be a terrible, twisted irony that death and destruction can wreak their well-known havoc in a small town with such a beautifully innocent name.

I am grieving every time I hear or read about this story. Five young girls dead, several others wounded. A man who loved his own wife and children suddenly jumping off a precipice of despair when no one even realized he was anywhere near the edge, and taking all those young and beloved lives with him.

I'm feeling grateful that we don't have a television. I don't think I could bear to hear the heartbreak in the voices of the people of the Amish community and their near-by neighbors, people who thought they had given their children a safe and secure and beautiful place and way to grow up, only to see violence slam its way into even that "refuge."

All of which leads one to the sobering realization that there is no physical refuge anywhere on earth. We can plan, we can protect, we can try as hard as we can to bring up our children wisely and to build a loving community. We can do those things and we must keep doing them because frankly it's the only way to live here in the land of now and not yet, when the kingdom of God gets glimpsed only in glimmers but hasn't yet come in its fullness.

But we fool ourselves if we think there is any "safety" even in the most idyllic and ideal seeming circumstances, like a one-room Amish schoolhouse. The only safety we can really know is that our ultimate refuge lies in God, in Christ our "solid rock."

The Enemy is crafty. He can pervert the real, deep longings of the human heart (see posting below). He can deepen the void that someone already feels. He can take grief and pain and anger, all of which the killer apparently felt deeply, and twist them inside someone until they're a total mess. Until they can't tell truth from lies. Until they're ready to kill others and themselves.

The only thing that can give us hope in times like these is not a thing but a Person. "Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world." (1 John 4:4) Come, Holy Spirit, and rule this broken, disobedient world. We cry out for your mercy.

"Our heart is restless until it rests in you." (Augustine) I'm not sure I ever realized until today that the phrase is "our heart" -- plural but singular -- just as it is in the prayer book confession, when we confess "We have not loved you with our whole heart..."


Erin said...

What a terrible tragedy... My grandparents live very close to Lancaster and I've been there many times. I've always had a lot of respect for the Amish and their lifestyle, and it's tragic to see that community shattered by something so senseless. I've been thinking about it a lot, and I wrote this poem yesterday...


Their people chose a peaceful way
Of sweet simplicity,
Of working hard throughout the day
And praying fervently.

Their faith, their families, their farms...
These were what sustained them.
Untempted by most worldly charms,
The thought of violence pained them.

Although their shelter long endured,
Serenity's been shaken.
How can their broken hearts be cured?
Innocence has been taken.

Their aching arms clutch well-worn tomes
As teardrops smear the letters,
While neighbors in their modern homes
Wish they could make things better.

Can they help heal this hallowed land
With their comfort and aid?
Will Plain folk grasp an English hand
When trust has been betrayed?

We cannot know the answers now.
It may be a long while
Till, when they quilt or cook or plow,
They're glad enough to smile.

But though they now are in distress
And sorrow may increase,
These gentle souls in solemn dress
Will once again know peace.

Beth said...

Erin, thank you. You have such a gift, my friend, such a gift with words.

I'm pretty familiar with Lancaster too, as we used to live just an hour from there. We sometimes took day-trips just to get away a bit and rest -- and we had good friends in Ephrata we used to stay with.

I'm amazed and touched (but not surprised) to hear that the Amish community has set up funds for the families of the children that died...*and* for the family of the man who killed them. That's grace and forgiveness and love in action.

I've been struggling to write poetry lately, but perhaps I too will try to work through my feelings about this with some poeming.

Thank you again for sharing your beautiful poem...

Erin said...

You're welcome - and if you do I would love to see it. I hadn't heard about the funds that were set up - touching indeed, an impressive show of forgiveness, and a sign of hope too...

Beth said...

I just heard about the funds tonight, via an e-letter from Sojourners. Here's the link to the site where the funds are set up, if you're interested. Mennonite Central Committee is also coordinating fund-raising efforts.