The Isle of Iona feels very far away from the rest of the world. Sometimes, this isolation is more social than geographic. It took me only a day and a half to get here from Crawfordsville, Indiana, but sometimes family, friends, and all else that makes the world familiar seems light years away. This includes the news. I have access to the Internet at only one location in the Abbey, and most days this means walking here to sort through email and check the news for about 30 minutes (newspapers drop in from time to time, but not regularly).
And as such, it was not until a few seconds after I posted my blog to Facebook last week that I learned of the shooting in Orlando, and so began a week characterized by feelings of isolation, homesickness, and frustration by me and most of the staff. The shooting affected me more than others in the USA have, which is a sobering thought - that there are countless similar instances against which to compare this one. I'm not sure why this is. Perhaps it is because I am far from home, or because I am growing older and these events seem more real to me than they did when I was a child. Maybe it is because this latest act of gun violence claimed more lives than any other in US history. I am also aware of the details unique to this case. I have many friends in the LGBT community, several of whom were celebrating Pride month at establishments like the Pulse nightclub last weekend. I am scared for their safety. I am also scared by the growing threat of ISIS and extremism both abroad and in my own country. So for a multitude of reasons, this hit a little closer to home than I would have liked.
But while my thoughts were elsewhere, I was still here, on this remote island, attempting to live in community with people who were similarly scared, frustrated, and angry at the world that seems so dark and full of sin at times like these.
That very night, however, these two worlds came crashing together in a way I did not expect - in worship. Every Sunday, the volunteers organize a nighttime Taizé prayer service in the Abbey. Taizé is an ecumenical Christian community in France famous for its contemplative worship that makes use of repetitive, chant-like songs in many languages, including Latin, French, German, and English. At Iona we sing Taizé prayer by candlelight seated on the floor.
This week, I was leading the service with another volunteer, and it was my responsibility to read the intercessions. And after learning about the massacre in Florida just hours before, there was no way that I could pray what I had already planned. It was clear that we would instead pray for the situation we found in front of us. But what can one pray in the face of such evil, such darkness, when so many people are feeling the absence of God and his love? The only words I could find were "Lord, have mercy." The Kyrie. Words that for me, don't try to explain how such suffering can exist, but don't run away from such suffering, either. So we prayed, in our doubt, in our fear, "Lord, have mercy." Kyrie Eleison. And that became the framework for our prayer as we prayed for Christ's light to illuminate our darkness, as we prayed for for those who had died, for their families, for the man who committed the atrocity, and for ourselves, each stained by sin and death.
It wasn't an uplifting experience, but it was an honest one. Fifty candles burned in a rack above our heads, one for each life stolen in a rain of bullets. It brought the dark and dangerous world into our safe, quiet island community, and that's about all we could do. To make ourselves vulnerable, to feel someone else's pain. Prayer and church shouldn't always make us happy. But it should always put us in communion with all of God's world, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Prayer should break down the isolation between us and God and between us and the world. It has been said that the Church should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable. I hope that we did that faithfully last week.
Rest eternal grant to your fallen children, O God. Let light perpetual shine upon them. May their souls and the souls of all the departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.