I had gone to bed fairly early, so not seen the news as it broke on Monday evening. But I had woken in the night, and when I looked at my phone I saw the item notified through the BBC news app. When we turned the radio on in the morning, there was (naturally) no other news worth reporting. Our rolling news and social media is quite effective at impressing on those of us at a distance the raw experience, so it would not be long before we saw some mobile phone video of what happened. But I wonder whether this approach helps us to process the powerful emotions that compete for attention when such news breaks, and I spent some of yesterday wrestling with this.
We feel shock that such a thing could happen here. The violence and chaos that we see reported from distant lands has visited us, here. This is true for all of us living in the same country, but of course it is most powerfully true for those living in Manchester, close to the scene, where it is places that they know in the daily lives which has become the backdrop to the devastation we have seen. The violence has ripped through our normally stable lives—and the shock of this makes us impatient with the careless and glib use of the language of ‘stability’ for political point-scoring.
We feel overwhelming grief and compassion for the families of those who have lost the ones they loved. It is almost impossible to imagine the grief and despair of those who have lost an eight-year-old daughter in this way, and words fail us. Anyone who has experienced such loss, or been close to those who have, know that the loss of a child is a wound that never fully heals in this life—not perhaps should it–but becomes a reality around which life might begin to be reordered.
Immediately we heard reported a new sense of fear and anxiety in the streets of Manchester—but how will we feel at future large gatherings which we are keenly aware will be vulnerable to future attacks? There is no real way of protecting ourselves from such things if we want to live in freedom.
The simmering anger is the emotion that seems hardest to report—and the most dangerous to neglect. For some, it is anger at a particular group of people seen to be responsible, and we are right to resist the instinct to scapegoat. But we should feel anger at violence, at lives cut short, at the destruction not just of those killed and injured but of the many other lives affected. Grief and anger are sibling emotions that often work together. In reading the Psalms, we find the expressions of raw anger the most difficult to deal with—but there are times when they become the most important, as Scripture turns from being God’s word to us into being our words to God.
Along with anger, there will be emerging feelings of betrayal and confusion which raise important questions: how could someone raised in Britain commit such a crime? How could a 22-year-old want to unleash such carnage and death on other young people? How could someone whose family received refuge in Britain hate the country that welcomed them?
The reason for naming these emotions is that they seem very tangled up in the reporting, discussion and thinking about what has happened—and they are quickly giving way to wider analysis in the news. And Jesus seemed to think it was important to name our demons (Mark 5.9). These powerful emotional forces need recognising and articulating rather than resolving or suppressing, and those of us at a distance need to remember that those affected will long live with them. The response of steely resolve and determination that we have heard will be important, but it will not provide the answers to the questions asked by these emotions.
In the public statements made by faith leaders, I quite understand the need to express solidarity across religious divides, but I have been a little surprised at the absence of mention of the person of Jesus. Evening Prayer on Monday included this teaching of Jesus:
But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. (Luke 6.27–31)
These are hollow words unless we hear them spoken by one who did himself turn the other cheek, who took into himself on the cross the full fury of the hatred and violence of the world, and who alone is able to speak the enduring word of peace into our lives. He was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief, who, on seeing death and bereavement at first hand offered the simplest of responses: ‘Jesus wept’ (John 11.35). This response neither displaced nor was displaced by the word of hope, ‘I am the resurrection and the life’ (John 11.25) and our prayer for those in Manchester must be for both consolation and hope.
We #Pray4Manchester today. Rise up above its streets and schools, above the site of the atrocity, with healing in Your wings. Hear the cries of the wounded, the terrified and bereaved. Give its 2.5 million people peace?, its police-force wisdom? and its pastors love? to bind up broken hearts and conduct too many funerals, over coming weeks.
?Bring strength to the city’s emergency services, reconciliation to its large Muslim community, justice to the perpetrators, and comfort to the 21,000 young people who were at the concert simply having fun.
With defiance we celebrate Manchester’s unstoppable, undeniable world-class brilliance, alive as it is with music and sport, innovation and regeneration, industry, community and real faith.
And somehow, through the blood that has been shed, may many people encounter the Conquest of Love; the triumph of your resurrection life. (Pete Grieg)
It seems wholly appropriate timing that we should be about to pray ‘Thy Kingdom Come’. We pray that God’s name might be known and honoured, that his will might be done, and that his kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven—since these three petitions belong together.
O God, lead us from death to life,
from falsehood to truth.
Lead us from despair to hope,
from fear to trust.
Lead us from hate to love, from war to peace.
Let peace fill our hearts, our world, our universe.
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