Reflections on the Brussels Terrorist Attacks
In light of this week's terrorist attacks in Brussels, Belgium, several of our ON Scripture writers took a few moments to reflect on these tragic events. To continue the conversation, join us on Twitter at #ONscripture.
Rev. Mihee Kim-Kort:
I woke up this morning to the lines from the daily lectionary passage found in Lamentations: "Zion stretches out her hands, but there is no one to comfort her."
In Brussels, another act of violence has shaken the world filling the air with death and loss. I grieve along with all those who have lost loved ones to the terror brought about by extremists this week, but also this year, this decade, both near and far. Our children are growing up in a world marred by the darkness of this kind of horror, and I want to curl up in a ball to escape it all because it overwhelms and paralyzes my efforts at life.
It is Holy Week. We take measured steps towards Jerusalem and I am mindful of Jesus' words in the Gospel of Mark as he finds himself with his disciples on the Mount of Olives. Darkness is coming on, and it is one that will intensify as the week continues to unfold before us.
Jesus says these words as they prepare for the Passover celebration to commemorate their liberation from Egypt and express a hope in a future brought about by the Messiah. Death and life are juxtaposed in these images of festivals and foot-washings as I look out to a sky full of sunlight that has finally overcome the winter gloom. And yet, the air is still cold from a winter that refuses to loose its shackles. For many, the cold and darkness seem to press in even more even as they stretch out their hands. I feel the heaviness of the air, too.
What can we do to survive it? This darkness that persists? Along with so many I will drag myself out of bed, or more likely, let my children pull me out from under the covers, I will squeeze them with gratitude and hope. I will keep that journey towards Jerusalem and the darkness that will grow deeper, and then, I will light a candle. I will lift up prayers on behalf of those who suffer today, and always, and I will stay my eyes on the horizon for the light that promises to break through, for the comfort that will descend on us, for the salvation poured out on the earth.
Dr. Greg Carey:
Today's bombings in Brussels confront us with a stark reality: in the face of global terrorism, we are all vulnerable. Today it's Brussels; three days ago, Istanbul; nine days ago, Ankara and Grand-Bassam in the Ivory Coast. Our sophisticated security structures surely protect us, but they cannot provide absolute protection. Early assessments of the Brussels attacks indicate the likelihood that in part they represent revenge for yesterday's arrest in Brussels of Salah Abdeslam, who coordinated last year's Paris attacks. They may also indicate a final assault by ISIS terrorists in the city who realized their own time may have been running out. As heavily secured as Western societies try to be, attacks like today's confront us with our mortality.
These final days of Lent likewise call us to face our mortality. If you're in a church that uses the Revised Common Lectionary, you've been hearing passages from the Gospel of Luke that show how Jesus faced the prospect of his own death. Warned that King Herod is out to kill him, Jesus responds that he will continue the course of his ministry undeterred (13:31-35). Advised that the often vicious Pontius Pilate has murdered a group of Galileans, mingling their blood with their sacrifices, Jesus reminds the crowd of a random tragedy at Siloam. We are all likewise vulnerable (13:1-9). Jesus wept over Jerusalem (19:41), as we do Brussels, yet he continued on his path. At the moment of his arrest, Jesus reaches out to heal the ear of a member of the arrest party (22:50-51); on the cross, Jesus seeks forgiveness for his tormentors (23:34); and just before he dies, Jesus promises Paradise to a criminal (23:43).
Like Jerusalem in Jesus' day - and surely, today - we need to hear "the things that make for peace" (19:42). ISIS wants us to fuel our anger and strike back in hatred. Although we may support international efforts to combat terrorism, Jesus teaches us what to do when tragedy strikes: Accept our mortality, bless outcasts, seek healing, and keep doing what we are called to do. As Jesus wept over Jerusalem, we weep for Brussels. And we continue in Jesus' path.
Rev. Dr. Jaime Clark-Soles:
I arrange my Mondays around a certain ritual, a yoga class taught by my gifted teacher, Mireille (Mimi) Mears. She's from Belgium. From Charleroi, to be exact. It's about 30 miles away from Brussels. Her nephew lives a few minutes away from the attack site with his wife and three children under the age of 6. Mimi always closes our class with a ritual, this prayer/meditation/homily (with her beautiful Belgian accent) and yesterday was no exception:
"As you bring your hands together in front of the heart, take a moment to congratulate yourself for taking the time and the energy to be here today. We dedicate our practice to those who couldn't be here, that they may benefit from the energies we have nurtured together. To those who are suffering, that they may find Peace and Relief, and for the healing of our species and our planet, knowing that it starts with each one of us taking responsibility for the choices that we are making on a day to day basis. Honoring the light within yourself and each other, that connects us all, we say: 'Namaste.'"
That was Monday morning. Monday night, I went to a healing service at church for a member of my Sunday School class who is battling cancer again/still.
In our most difficult times, our own words may fail us. (Mimi's FB post this morning said, "I have no words". Then she asked for prayers.) So, we join together, hold hands, lay hands on one another and rely on ritual and tradition to get us through. We read aloud our Scriptures that have sustained others who lived before us and have sustained us in earlier times in our own lives as individuals or members of a particular community. We anoint with oil in the name of Christ. And we listen to music that takes us to places that words cannot and begins to heal us cell by cell when all the words have been exhausted.
So when I heard the news this morning, the words of Romans 12:15 came to mind (as they had in the healing service last night): "Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep." So I opened Scripture to read the rest of the passage, including this:
12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.
13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.
15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.
16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.
17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.
18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. (Rom 12:12-18 NRS)
To me, it sounds a lot like Mimi's prayer.
And not a single phrase of it sounds particularly do-able to me, let alone easy. But because it's Holy Week--where we move in slow motion with a magnifying glass to watch Jesus's every move, where we see him actually put all of this into practice--I feel called to at least try a little more than usual.
PS: Here's part of the hymn we sang for healing. It strikes me as appropriate for today.
We Cannot Measure How You Heal-Ye Banks and Braes
We cannot measure how you heal
or answer every sufferer's prayer,
yet we believe Your grace responds
where faith and doubt unite to care.
Your hands, though bloodied on the cross
survive to hold and heal and warn,
to carry all through death to life
and cradle children yet unborn.
So some have come who need Your help,
and some have come to make amends,
as hands which shaped and saved the world
are present in the touch of friends.
Lord, let Your Spirit meet us here
to mend the body, mind and soul,
to disentangle peace from pain
and make Your broken people whole
Praying with Our Hands
By Jim Kast-Keat:
God, sometimes we pray with clenched fists, holding on for our own dear life or to the life of those we love.
Sometimes we pray with clenched fists, raising them in protest of the injustice we encounter.
Sometimes we pray with clenched fists, not knowing what else to do, desperate to hold on to anything.
God, may we find you within our clenched fists, hearing your invitation to turn anger to love and violence to peace, knowing that yours is the hand that is always there to hold onto.
God, sometimes we pray with our hands open, offering ourselves to you and the lives of love and justice that you are calling us to life.
Sometimes we pray with our hands open, open to whatever blessings might come our way.
Sometimes we pray with our hands open, blessed so that we give a blessing to others.
God, may we find you in our open hands, a posture to give and receive, ready and willing to join you as we work to reshape this world in the name of love and justice.
God, sometimes we pray with our hand on our chest, in need of the reminder that we are still alive with lungs that breathe and a heart that beats.
Sometimes we pray with our hand on our chest, taking a breath and realizing that our very being is a miracle and a gift from God.
Sometimes we pray with our hand on our chest, feeling the rhythm breath and the beating of our heart, knowing that you are as close as every breath and you invite us to be people whose lives beat with love.
God, may we find you in the beating of our heart and as close as our very breath, knowing that you are loving us and giving us life.
God, you are holding all of us and all creation - whether we weep or rejoice, laugh or lament, you are always with us. Remind us that our hands are your hands, a living and breathing God alive and at work in this world, making all things new. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Wil Gafney:
God Is Present
How long, holy one?" The opening line of Habakkuk is its theme. The Prophet cries out to God to explain the violence in the world. And God answers, enters into conversation with the prophet and reveals divine plans. God hears. God cares. God is present.
Rev. Dr. Eric Barreto:
In the space between Palm Sunday and Good Friday, between the acclaiming of Jesus as a king and his execution as a threat to the political order, I was no more ready to read the news this morning. The stifling, exhausting repetition of violence and terrorism is both all too common but still shocking. And yet, I hope that Christians in particular can draw upon the narrative arc that moves us from Jesus' triumphal entry to his seeming defeat on Calvary.
Death, we remember this week, is our constant companion.
And not just the death that takes us peacefully in our sleep after a live well lived but the death that ensnares us when we least expect it, the death that is not the result of a heart debilitated by age but by hearts driven to hate and violence and hopelessness. The daily deaths that deprive us of our humanity, of our hopefulness.
When Jesus dies with all those unjustly executed by cruel systems-whether death comes at the hands of an imperial force or mere neglect-he dies with all, not just those whose plights draw our attention, our compassion, and the camera lenses of our media. The attacks on Belgium are tragic. The victims of such terrorism in Belgium are not alone. Jesus knows the sting of death. So do numerous other victims of violence and terrorism and war, victims whose names and faces we will never know because they don't impinge upon our daily lives. But Jesus knows them. Jesus knows their pain.
And in Jesus, resurrection is a fulfilled promise. Resurrection is present and tangible and real.
I don't mean by this some simple, saccharine sentiment. I don't mean that Jesus makes everything okay. But our confession as Christians this week is that death has already been defeated, that death has no hold upon us, that resurrection is not just something we can experience in the future.
Resurrection is for today.
Imagine, then, if our reaction to these attacks would not be fear and self-interested protection. Imagine if we didn't close our borders. Imagine if we didn't view our Muslim neighbors with suspicion. Imagine if we didn't give into our basest instincts to build bigger weapons. Imagine if we lived the resurrected life together.
Imagine instead if violence and terrorism would drive us to see and feel and heal the plight of our neighbors, near and far. Imagine if fear would drive us not to build bigger walls but to love those who are violence's most frequent victims. Imagine if the resurrection were as real and as tangible as the images of destruction we see on our many screens.
This Easter weekend many churches will read Psalm 22, a psalm Jesus voices as he dies on the cross in Mark 15:34. The psalm moves from despair to praise, from praise to despair, again and again. The psalm does not land on either one for long, moving from cries of hopelessness to the unbridled praise of a loving God. That psalmic rhythm of praise and despair, despair and praise has lingered in my heart today. What does it mean to live in that space between hopefulness and a sober assessment of the world as it is today?
The psalm won't answer that question completely, but it gestures toward an imagination more than a simple answer. Near the end of the psalm, we read, "The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the LORD. May your hearts live forever!" (22:26).
Sit with that verse for a moment. Notice how despair and praise can drive us to the needs of our neighbors. As we grieve Jesus' unjust death and celebrate his resurrection, as we grieve the unconscionable loss of life and the hope that God promises, may despair and praise together point us to those whom God calls our sisters and brothers, our kin.
In the space between Palm Sunday and Good Friday, between the acclaiming of Jesus as a king and his execution as a threat to the political order, may we discover a resurrection power that overwhelms our instincts to shelter ourselves, our fear of the stranger, our hopelessness in a broken world.
Rev. Dr. Karyn Wiseman:
Once again we turned on the news this morning and got word about an act of terrorism with vivid images of pain, loss, and suffering splashed across the screen. When I saw it, I immediately thought, "Not again!" But indeed, once again we are in the midst of violence, hatred, and fear.
This time it happened in Brussels, Belgium. Multiple blasts occurred killing dozens and injuring many more. ISIS, a terrorist organization that has been responsible for multiple acts of terror, has claimed responsibility. And the cycle continues.
When we live in the midst of hatred, and fear - of "the other," of the terrorists, or of the possibility of terrorism, the terrorists win. Or so I have often been told. We are not immune from the possibility of terrorism - as we've seen in too many incidents to count. Both large cities and smaller areas have been impacted. Living in the 21st century world means we live in the face of the possibility of terror wherever we are, wherever we live, wherever we travel, and wherever we work.
So how do we move forward and trust? How do we enter into the world without hatred and fear? How do we move forward without trembling in our boots?
I wish there was an easy answer. I send my teenaged son out into the world of a large metropolitan city every day. We live in Philadelphia, PA where gun violence occurs on a regular basis and where we have a major transportation hub of planes, trains, and automobiles. Some days when I hear about violence and acts of terror, I want to cocoon him at home and never let him leave the house again. But that's not how we are geared to live. We are challenged to enter into the world and encounter the good and bad of it all. We are called to live in the world and to make it a better place.
So I teach my son to be aware of his surroundings, to engage people around him with compassion, to be independent, and to live in love. Yes, I get scared at times. But I would much rather he be part of the world and potentially encounter the negatives he might see than to live an isolated and fearful life.
Surely, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives had done the same thing with their loved ones in Belgium. Surely they had worried about the potential for violence around them. But they still entered into the world around them.
And people in the midst of that violence today in Brussels shared their phones, offered sweaters and coats, cared for the wounded, and reached out to one another in love. This is how we beat the terrorists - with compassion and love. Not with fear and hatred. That's too easy.
It's much harder to love our neighbors. It's much harder to continue to embrace the world. It's much harder to share our hope in the world. That's what I choose to teach my son. And I think that's what God calls us to do as well. I choose love.
Like ON Scripture on Facebook
Follow ON Scripture on Twitter @ONScripture