Monday, February 21, 2011

When Tragedy Strikes

It has happened again.   An individual with severe and untreated mental illness has committed a violent act.  Newscasts blare calling him a Deranged Killer and Mad Man.  Frightening mug shots are plastered on every news outlet imaginable.  Armchair commentators call for the death penalty, blame the family, and ferociously try to derail this family of any humanity.  Pundits wring their hands and wonder how something like this could have happened.  Again.  Not only is the stigma of mental illness being reinforced, it is allowed to take on a ferocious life of its own.
    It stops us cold; those of us who love someone with severe mental illness.  We know full well how it could have happened and that it will happen again.   Until it is easier for our loved ones to access appropriate treatment early. Until it is unheard of to allow someone to spiral downward into a nightmare of psychosis without someone, somewhere along the way, doing everything possible to obtain treatment for this person.  Until community-based treatment options are fully funded and available to all in need.
    We worry that people will consider all individuals with mental illness dangerous.  We know that most are not; they are in fact, vulnerable to being victimized.  We know that these individuals bring richness and depth to our lives and that we have much to learn and benefit from them.  Our hearts go out to all of the victims of violence in these tragic circumstances.  We extend this compassion to the family of the perpetrator.  Except for the blame and shame cast on them, their suffering in this situation is ignored.  We cannot begin to imagine what suffering they experience.  But, we may well offer up a prayer for them and say to ourselves, "There but the grace of God go I."

The Prodigal Son

Here is a meditation I wrote for my church Lenten Devotional.

Henri Nouwen wrote a beautiful book, The Return of the Prodigal Son:  A Story of Homecoming.  It is a magnificent meditation on the story of the Prodigal Son told through the beauty of Rembrandt's painting of the same name.  In the painting, the humbled son has returned and kneels before his father, vulnerable, seeking forgiveness, reconciliation, and restoration of relationship.  As you view the painting, your eye is drawn to the hands of the father, as they hold his beloved son in a tender embrace.
    This loving and gentle embrace of his son is like God's embrace of us.  The warmth of the father's hands assure the son that he is loved, forgiven, and fully restored in body, mind, spirit, and right relationship.  Rather than using his hands to reject, to strike, or withhold love, the father uses his embrace to emulate the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth.  Through the touch of Christ, we are loved, even though we may not feel we deserve it.  We are healed, even though we may not believe it to be possible.  We are transformed into the men and women God wishes us to be, even though we lack confidence in ourselves to carry out God's work.
    We prayerfully consider Christ's suffering and death during Lent.  So too, we prayerfully consider our own suffering and that of others.  This year, I will consider the father who lovingly lays hands on his humiliated, repentant son.  I pray for the grace to bear the love of Christ in all I encounter, and to use my hands to carry out his work here on earth, in healing and loving embrace.  I too, wish to play a part in Kingdom of Heaven here on earth.
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