This spring, three times a week I have walked through the lobby of Otto Miller Hall, going to and from my course in Communication Ethics — usually consumed in thought about class and oblivious to the presence of those students who serve as safety monitors.
Today, that space is a crime scene.
And today my emotions are this peculiar mix of sorrow and relief — sorrow for the loss of life, sorrow for those injured, sorrow for the way violence has displayed its relentless force here at SPU. But I also feel relief because of the quick action of a student monitor and others, who stopped a terrible situation from becoming much, much worse. And as I look back at these past two sentences, I am acutely aware of how inadequate any words are right now.
For that reason, the most powerful moment in Thursday night’s prayer service started with notes of music. During a period of silent prayer, musicians began playing Gungor’s song “Beautiful Things.” As the musicians began the chorus, without any cue or direction, students began to sing. Their voices were soft, starting like a murmur and gaining strength as more joined in. Once the prayer ended, the lyrics appeared on the screen and the mix of music and voice swelled into a crescendo that was at once mournful and gorgeous.
“Beautiful Things” was a good choice because it sways back and forth between lament and hope. Earlier in the service, my colleague Frank Spina touched on the importance of lament — that we cannot skip or bypass it; we must reckon with it, express it. To do otherwise, to rush forward to the usual words of hope, he said, is to reduce that hope to a cliché.
Before the hope of Psalm 23, he reminded us, is Psalm 22, an expression of desolate lament. After Spina finished his comments, we listened to both of those Psalms and heard them in a way that was not possible before.
In my ethics course, I devote the final weeks to examining the concept of reconciliation. I use the book “Reconciling All Things,” which also stresses the importance of lament: It is a crying out toward God, the authors say, a practice that is necessary in order to find genuine hope. And in recent weeks, the students have explored lament through various stories, ranging from those of 9/11 widows to Jesmyn Ward’s memoir “Men We Reaped” to the documentary “The Interrupters,” which examines efforts to combat gun violence in Chicago.
By using stories, it is my hope that students can see how abstract concepts are lived out in concrete, real-life situations. While these stories are intense, we still examine them at a safe distance, in a classroom.
On Thursday, that distance collapsed. Please pray that we have the courage to lament honestly, so that we may hope fully.