This last week has surely left many of us feeling an overwhelming sense of despair. Forty three dead and two hundred and thirty nine injured in bombings in Beirut. One hundred and twenty nine dead and three hundred and fifty two injured in coordinated attacks in Paris. Forty seven dead and eighty injured in two days of bombings in Nigeria.
And there is worse to be found when you look past the numbers and realise that one of the suicide bombers in Nigeria is believed to be a girl as young as eleven.
Many articles and opinions pieces have condemned and analysed, and many statuses and tweets have expressed deep sympathy and solidarity, but I must confess that I have found it difficult to even pray. Not because I don’t believe prayer is right or powerful, but because all my words somehow feel trite.
Of course I hold those affected in my heart and of course I want to see God at work in those places that have seen such devastation, but what words could I say that would possibly make sense of or add anything to what has happened and what has already been spoken?
I didn’t feel I could blog as if this week had not happened, but I still cannot find words that don’t seem hopelessly inadequate or hackneyed. And so I am drawn to offer something else.
Because amid all of the stories of horror there are other stories. A man named Adel Termos who tackled the second bomber in Beirut, sacrificing his own life but saving others in the process. The Parisians who lined the streets to give blood and returned to the sites of the attacks in the perfect act of defiance. The fact that Nigeria has just banned female genital mutilation, a spark of hope in a country racked by terror.
And there are other stories away from the horror. Ireland has just celebrated its first same sex marriage, after being the first country to introduce equal marriage through a referendum. A volunteer firefighter has received the most extensive face transplant yet, giving him back eyelids and ears after he lost them in a fire fourteen years ago. My Facebook feed has been ful of little stories of people defying the narratives of hate and difference through simple acts of love and community.
You may have to look harder for those stories, but they are there. And we can all write our own stories, as we find small moments of blessing in the people around us or the things we take pleasure in or the simple fact of our being alive.
These other stories dont cancel out the horror that has happened, and we shouldn’t use them as an excuse to look away and pretend everything is okay.
But these stories do remind us that we work for a kingdom that is breaking through and bearing fruit everywhere, pushing tender shoots through broken ground and bringing beauty and hope into barren places. They remind us that even in the valley of the shadows we are not alone and we are not forsaken, for we worship a God who made his home in the dirt and the mess of our world. They remind us that we believe that life can come from death, because love always wins over hate.
Or to (slightly mis-) quote Tolkien, they remind us that “in the end the shadow is only a small and passing thing: there is light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach”.