Once again,Chicago is in the news for the violence. It is hard to deny the gravity of the problem when the number of shootings in a seven hour period on a Sunday morning reaches 40 people. As I expected, there were a lot of people weighing in on who or what is responsible: police, community, young men, poverty, gangs, drugs, trauma, etc.
For us here at PBMR, like so many, this is not a theoretical discussion. It is deeply, deeply personal. Last week three of the gunshot victims were part of our family – they were shot getting ready to start their workday in our woodshop. Luckily, they will survive the physical trauma; the emotional trauma, however, is a different story. Trauma is that which we cannot integrate or make sense of; it is that which interrupts our lives and causes deep emotional wounds. It causes outbursts of emotions: fear, deep sadness, and anger. Often it leaves one hyper vigilant and paranoid, and erodes trust, which ultimately leaves one in isolation. A couple hours after the shooting, we sat in circle with a group of young men from the Center. One of the young men burst into tears and covered his face. Everyone understood for each feels the weight of living in a world where young men of color are more likely to die of homicide than anything else. While my heart aches at their pain, I feel some comfort in that we can at least offer these young men (and staff) a place where emotions are not silenced; a place where outrage and anger are given space, where healing can begin. I don’t have the answers, but I know this is exactly where we are supposed to be. This is a sacred place, not because we fill the air with platitudes or have answers, but because we are present.
Some years ago, Sr. Donna Liette CPPS and I were at a retreat center in California – Mater Dolorosa. Walking down the long winding path outside the main building, you stumble upon a series of large statues depicting Jesus on his path to Calvary. One was of the women of Jerusalem meeting Jesus, next was the one of Mary encountering Jesus as he strained under the weight of the cross. It was the pained and helpless look on Mary’s face that really spoke to me. And in the eyes of Jesus was the loving recognition of his mother. Even in her powerlessness there was the powerful presence of His mother – one who would not be separated from her son.
Last week, when our young men were shot in front of our art center. Being so close, many of us arrived well before the ambulance. I held my hand over Dashaun’s wound, pressing hard to stop the bleeding until another staff got the tourniquet around his leg and the ambulance arrived. It was a frightening moment but also very sacred. As I washed the blood from my hand, I felt the tears well up in my eyes. While they were tears of being powerless in the face of so much violence, they were also tears of being connected to a spirituality that embraces pain and suffering and places it in the pain and suffering of Jesus.
Strange as it may sound, as I washed my hands, the song (Song of Liberation, by Joe Nassal and John Winkels) sung so often at our CPPS celebrations, came to mind: “The blood of Christ refreshes our souls, gives us new courage, liberates our lives. The blood of the poor soaks into the land, cries out for justice, yearning for peace. We are redeemed in the blood of Christ. We are washed in love. Sent by the blood, stained by the blood, we are servants of the blood of Christ. The bones of the weary ache for compassion, searching for vision, shout out with newstrength.” We are where we are supposed to be – present to the suffering as we give witness to power ofGod’s love.