I seem unable to avoid thinking on the tragedy of Uvalde. If I close my eyes, I can picture the children and teachers as they are terrorized. I hear the screaming both inside the building and outside, children and parents sending primal screams into the universe begging, like the Greeks in classical literature, for mercy from the gods. And then, I watched the videos from the Congressional Hearing on January 6 and thought, again, of the primal scream only this time from officers struggling to contain an out-of-control murderous crowd bent on overturning our democracy. In recent memory, these two tragic events represent the pinnacle of chaos: the kind found in the existence of hell, according to Dante’s Inferno.
And Dante was on to something here according to many theologians. Chaos is a non-linear process where there is no recognizable pattern at work. A state of chaos occurs when complex systems follow laws but future states are unpredictable. When one is in a state of chaos, one is thrown about by forces outside oneself and a clear direction is almost impossible. In the Inferno, nothing comes to completion, nothing is satisfied, only destruction prevails. People who cause such chaos are acting within the persuasion of evil; they are bound to cause fear and uncertainty and disable the mechanics of harmony and peace. We cannot allow ourselves to be so persuaded.
Several people who are struggling with the existence of mass shootings and the prevarications of spineless government leaders, have expressed to me that they also feel victimized by all of this chaos. They share that while these two tragic incidents are uppermost in our minds, they have tentacles in deeper evils such as acquisition of power, racism, anti-Semitism, a divided republic, and so on. Does prayer really work? They ask this over and over.
I believe prayer does work in the times of chaos. It works within the soul of the person who is praying. It strengthens her in that she has chosen a caring and loving Being to rely on. The soul reaches out to this Being beyond herself, like groping for a hand in the darkness. Or, the soul goes deep within to bring this Being forward asking in his or her own primal scream, “Please show yourself to me; please comfort all of us who seek direction at this time.” This is a humble prayer. It says that one is ready for whatever happens and one asks for others to be comforted as well.
In theologian Karl Rahner’s classic book, On Prayer, Rahner says almost immediately, that, “Unless the human heart is set free by God into that infinite freedom wherein alone it can realize itself, the heart becomes hedged in by mean limitations, by suffering, by hopelessness, by daily commonplaces that chain it down.” But, he says, one is set free by turning to God and praying this prayer: “Please show yourself to me; please comfort all of us who seek direction at this time.” God sets such a humble heart free. Otherwise, warns Rahner, “the heart will feed on itself. It becomes a welter of vanities, a sour well of bitterness and despair, a prison from which there is no escape.” We cannot let the chaos of these times control our hearts like this.
Be personal with God. Talk to God as if you are meeting eye-to-eye. Put the devotional formulas aside; open your heart. Tell God your fears and anxieties. Place in God’s hands your vulnerabilities. Ask where you might help others in times of chaos. Make yourself as peaceful as possible as you carry on a conversation with our loving Creator. Prayer in times of chaos can be as simple as Tevye’s conversations with God in Fiddler on the Roof or as brief and humble as Solomon’s wonderful request, “Give your servant an understanding heart that I may know right from wrong and guide your people accordingly.” (I Kings 3-9) Remember, God is within you. You need only look within your heart.
For this week, why not pray this way so you might emerge from the chaos around us and invading our world–into the light of peace. You will need quiet time on a regular basis to achieve some peace. Inspirational music helps along with a lighted candle. Go to your place of prayer and seek peace over chaos. Each of you is in my prayers as usual. Our connectedness is holy no matter what faith you profess or what God you are seeking. And join me in praying for all the victims of violence all over the world.