Last month, a crazed man opened fire at Seattle Pacific University (SPU). One student was killed, and others wounded. Had it not been for a student working as a building monitor who pepper-sprayed the shooter and wrestled him to the ground, the carnage would have been much worse.
Such shootings are horrible, senseless and tragic anywhere – but this one was doubly shocking for me because it happened in my city – just minutes from my sister’s house.
Over the days following the tragedy, we read lots of coverage in The Seattle Times – about the shooter, the deceased student, and those injured. What interested me most, though, was the Times headline I read:
“At SPU, Grief Not Despair.”
The article described the faith, calm and courage of the students. It showed pictures of students sitting together in prayer circles on the campus green. SPU professors spoke about how the students, in this Christian university, were allowing themselves to feel their deep confusion and anger, while tolerating the ambiguities of faith.
As seminary student Megan Wildhood was quoted: “We’re allowing ourselves to not really have answers, to have whatever feelings we are having. What I’m seeing most is the desire to really be together, to find each other, to look after each other. To both give and receive the love of Christ.”
The Power of the Circle
Many of the students had deep faith. But the power of the circle, as a place where grief and hopes, stories and sorrows can be shared, is not confined to the religious.
Many of us found a community of support in circles following 9 -11.
I remember sitting in a circle, the evening of 9-11, trying to understand or at least share the pain of what had happened that morning. We meditated in community and listened to each other, sharing our shock about the horrors we had heard about or seen broadcast during the day. We cried for the victims, and let our hearts break open without hoping for answers or crying for vengeance.
In the circle, we found a place where we could seek hope without denying a tragic, gritty and scarred reality.
Richard Steele, a professor at SPU, spoke about the experience at SPU: “We can experience anger, even rage, but we do not give vent to vengefulness. We can experience intense grief, but we do not lose hope. We recognize the brokenness in ourselves and therefore try to extend compassion and mercy to other people whose brokenness has been unleashed.”
The students at SPU showed a deep courage that did not retreat to quick, hateful reactions. They came together. They prayed. And they found solace in circles.
Everyday, the possibility of despair for the state of the world surrounds us.
We read reports about the dire state of climate change, the outbreak of more war in Iraq, or, unfortunately, the next crazed shooter. Standing in community, in the circle, we can find the power to stand with our hearts open and wounded.
Together, we remember our compassion, rekindle our hope, and choose grief not despair.
Quotes are from the Seattle Times Sunday, June 8, 2014.