catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 5, Num 18 :: 2006.10.06 — 2006.10.20


Clothed in death

One after another, the poems came in—more poetry than I've ever received in response to an issue.  I posed the theory to one of our writers that perhaps art helps us express what we cannot understand.  She sent me a link to a poem she wrote about 9/11 and responded, "I couldn't process that time in history in a way other than art. Art so often seems to become prayer in such situations."

During the past week, I've repeatedly bumped into a news story that for many is recalling the horrific incomprehension of September 11, 2001, even though its devastation was on a numerically lesser scale.  On Monday, October 2, Charles Carl Roberts IV—a man with history in his name—overtook a one-room Amish schoolhouse in Pennsylvania and shot ten young girls in the head at point blank range before shooting himself.  Five of the girls have died and their funerals are being planned and conducted as I type.  A friend in Ontario with Amish neighbors conveys their response to offers of help: "The most important help you can give is to pray for the community. They will need a lot of prayer to help deal with this for a long time to come."  Our friend suggests a prayer from the Iona community that they used after the September 11 attacks:

Watch now, dear Lord,
with those who wake
or watch
or weep tonight
and give your angels charge
over those who sleep.

Tend your sick ones, O Lord Christ,
rest your weary ones,
bless your dying ones,
soothe your suffering ones,
pity your afflicted ones,
shield your joyous ones,
and all for your love's sake.

Now may the God of hope fill us
with all joy and peace in believing,
that we may abound in hope
in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Current reports about Roberts' motives contain an ironic interpretation: that he shot the girls in retaliation for losing his own daughter and perhaps also connected to his molestation of young relatives 20 years ago.  Was it a belief that hurting people so outwardly close to the heart of God would in fact hurt the heart of God?  Was it an almost poetic symbol of murdering innocence, a public confession of his 20-year-old sins against his relatives?  It is a puzzling story indeed and I wonder what art will emerge from our attempt to understand.

Another story that's been puzzling me lately is the story the Hebrew Bible tells of the introduction of death into the human race—a story of two trees that represents another effort to wrap our minds around a deep mystery.  What does it mean that on one side of the bite we have eternal life and unabashed nakedness, while on the other side we have shame and death that are somehow connected to the knowledge of good and evil?  And what about this:

Then the Lord God said, "See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever"—therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. (Genesis 3:22-23)

It seems as though God knew what destruction we would invent if our years were endless.  And though death doesn't ultimately solve the problem of rebellion, it acts as a temporary covering, like Adam and Eve's clothing in the garden.  In a sense, it's an imperfect mercy. 

Even though this story of the world's creation and humanity's turning from God is one I've heard many times, I feel as though the more time I spend with it, the more questions I have, and this may also be true for those who ponder the mystery of an armed man in an Amish schoolhouse.  But I feel that this is a mystery we chose: to look deep into the unfathomable depths of the mind of God, who radiates joy while receiving suffering.  Though our young souls don't possess the wisdom to perceive evil without multiplying it, we may yet hope for the healing of true joy as we hold one another's hands in person and in poetry, knowing that we hold onto the sure victory of love.

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