My timelines on Twitter and Facebook have been hard to read recently. Whether the world is a worse place to be than it ever has been, or it is the outcome of 24-hour news, and instant information via the internet, the reality is, we are now almost constantly faced with stories of unbearable tragedy.
My reaction to these events that display the worst of humanity’s abilities, is usually similar. I begin with anger and sadness and soon follow with defiance. Others I know, spend more time in sadness and fear before moving towards defiance, but they never get angry. Some find it hard to break the cycle of fear. Others seek to reason the causes and impact of tragedy. We are all different.
The past two weeks have seemed to hit many of us harder than previous events. Perhaps it is that the Manchester attack seemed so awful as it was directly against children. Perhaps it was that something as everyday as eating ice cream was under attack in Baghdad. It seems that in the past number of days there was an acceleration of pain and an increase in senseless violence.
There is definitely something about tragedy occurring in a place that you recognise, that amplifies its impact on our emotions. I’ve been to the Manchester Arena, I’ve walked over London and Westminster Bridges. My memory can place me in all three in seconds. We often berate ourselves for giving greater value to things that happen in our western world than to those in other places. We should be more gentle with ourselves. It is natural to react differently to things that are familiar than to things that seem alien and other. It doesn’t make us less human, it doesn’t make us any less compassionate. Our minds are catching up with the information age; perhaps we weren’t meant to process this level of grief and horror all at once. So when you see a ‘yeah but what about this place or that place,’ status or tweet, scroll on, don’t breathe in guilt, process what you can, be kind to yourself and to other people. Of course you are horrified by events elsewhere.
I’m a language focussed person. I process almost everything in my life through talking or writing. So when faced with these things I write and I talk. I rarely sit in silence and consider things. Writing has been hard in light of the events that have dominated the past days but I’ve needed to do it. It has become increasingly hard to find words on which to hang my emotions. It is hard to find words that sum up the rage, sadness, bewilderment and defiance that I feel. The inability to express these things has been frustrating. I know I am not alone in this, it seems the world has been hit so hard, and in such quick succession that many of us are struggling for the words to help our emotions find solid ground again.
Perhaps through instinct or perhaps by accident, I have turned to the Psalms. We all read the Psalms in different ways and from different perspectives. Some will read them as letters from God for our comfort, and others as the collection of ancient songs about humanity’s experience of God and the world. Whatever your view, my suggestion is to try reading them in times like these. They are easy reads, they are beautifully poetic but they are laced with honesty. For all of their hope, they don’t ignore the moments of despair. They are full of triumph and full of defeat. They cry out to a God who feels distant and rest in a God who feels close.
Sometimes when we can’t put words on our own lips, it helps to put use words of another; words that have been passed through the past few thousand years because they reflect our human condition, that this world is as full of beauty as it is ugliness, as full of wonder as it is full of worry. If you’re struggling to process what you’re seeing unfold, then allow the words of another to guide you to creating your own expressions of mourning, anger and hope.
A good one to start with is Psalm, 139. In the same poem, the writer admits that only God can see the tangle in his heart and wishes for the wicked to be slain, that they be washed from the world. It is humble and it is angry. It is hopeful and it is hopeless. All of our emotions in one poem. Start there and read around. There are 150 to choose from. Some will lift you from the pit and some will sit alongside you at the bottom of it. Some will put hope in your heart and others will tell you it is ok to weep. Try it for 30 days, it might help you as it is helping me.
1 You have searched me, Lord,
and you know me.
2 You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
3 You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
4 Before a word is on my tongue
you, Lord, know it completely.
5 You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.
7 Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
13 For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts,[a] God!
How vast is the sum of them!
18 Were I to count them,
they would outnumber the grains of sand—
when I awake, I am still with you.
19 If only you, God, would slay the wicked!
Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!
20 They speak of you with evil intent;
your adversaries misuse your name.
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord,
and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?
22 I have nothing but hatred for them;
I count them my enemies.
23 Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.