Did you see her? The woman in Parkland, FL, her forehead marked in ashes with the sign of the cross, in tears holding another woman in agony over the deathly shooting of 17? It was Ash Wednesday. We had wondered about Ash Wednesday falling on Valentines’ Day. Now hearts were broken. We questioned why a nation could endure 18 school shootings already in 2018 and not repent, turn from its gun violent ways.
The day after, one can discern clearly the congressional/presidential messages from people that call for prayers but omit any call for regulation on guns being the same people who have received millions from the NRA. “Now is not the time” will no longer suffice. We have entered Lent. For real.
Have you been watching the Olympics? I have. All those nations participating in the opening ceremonies. Together. The United States had the largest delegation, but even the smallest nation mattered. Their athletes were honored. Peaceful coexistence envisioned, as both Koreas carried their one banner and the torch together. Of course, the world questioned if this was for real. Could it become the norm?
In the United States we are now asking if all the school shootings since Columbine have become the norm. We know how to do the liturgies of lament: the flowers and teddy bears, the candlelight vigils. We cry together and support one another. We pledge we will turn from our violent ways. Good, determined people put forth legislation, organize, but progress is blocked, and we grow hopeless of winning against powerful forces. People resign themselves to saying that “Some young people are just evil.” There will be more school shootings. Nothing can be done.
Have you been hearing? A phrase by U.S. Olympic news reporters this year? “Redemption.” Oh, not Lent to Easter Sunday Redemption of Jesus Christ, marked on the woman’s forehead with the ashen cross. It has seemed to do with slipping away from viewing all athletes coming into the stadium to focusing only on U.S. athletes who win or should win gold. Yes, there are some heart-warming stories of those who lost or couldn’t compete four years ago who won this year. “Olympic Redemption!” It’s an old American story: those who, by their own boot straps, worked their way to the top of the podium.
And then there is the image of the woman with the ashen cross on her forehead in anguish over the 17 dead, 14 wounded in the 3000 student-body school in mourning. Why, literally on earth, are we the nation, who has thought of ourselves as the “Redeemer” to the world, the only country with so many guns and so many school shootings? Valentine’s Day is past. Lent has really begun. May we wear that cross of ashes in public all these forty days, while holding each other in anguish and while daring to summon Olympian courage together to change this nation for real.