"I will offer you a simple litmus test to determine whether a person has healthy or unhealthy religion. What do they do with their pain-even their daily little disappointments? Do they transform their pain or do they transmit it? People who are practiced in transforming actual life pain, like Jesus on the cross, are the only spiritual authorities worth following. They know. They can lead and teach. The rest of us just talk." ~Richard Rohr, OFM
In our neighborhood this month, a local man named Steven Mallory unprovokedly assaulted a volunteer at the free meal site for the poor. After fleeing the scene, minutes later, he brutally attacked the police officer who stopped him for questioning. In self defense, the policeman had to shoot, and he killed Steven. Our "inner city" neighborhood, although not a stranger to crime, was shaken to the core. So much violence! A life ended, others severely damaged--all within minutes [for the complete story and video: Violent End to a Violent Life: Our Neighborhood Nightmare].
From the moment I heard there would be a prayer service in response to that horrid sequence of events, I knew I would attend. The service was last week.
The short, simple event attempted to respond peacefully to that violence. People who knew or were related to the perpetrator, people who serve in the neighborhood, neighbors--we all gathered in the site that provides free meals. We sang, reflected, and shared. We stood and extended our hands, symbolically calling down a blessing of peace on the area--in each of the four directions.
Unquestioningly, the testimony of the volunteer, Rylan Bebermeyer, who had been assaulted at that very room, moved me deeply. His lip was split in the unprovoked punch, an attack he did not even see coming, an attack that required 15 stitches to fix. As a neighbor to the Café myself, seeing his bloody gurney going into the ambulance had been my first indication of the trouble that day. He had looked like a character from the movie Rocky--and he even almost chuckled as he recalled that fact himself to the group.
Rylan also recalled that he had prayed early that morning that he would be open to whatever the day would bring to him. As he spoke of the incident his face mirrored deep peace. He expressed no anger--only gratitude: "I never once had a feeling of anger toward Steve. What good would have anger done?"
Instead Rylan remembered gratefully the many people who assisted him--including even the woman upon whom he fell: "...right over there [pointing]. I fell on her. She kept me from hitting the corner on my way down."
Nonviolence is not "goody two-shoes," otherworldly, nor something vapid or "feel good." The person who can integrate undeserved pain deliberately inflicted on him is not taking the easy way out. Our neighborhood is healing. Violence is easy. Peace is hard.
Thanks to the blog "St. Anne, Pray for Us" for bringing the quotation from Rohr to my attention.