I have been haunted by the images and stories that have flooded my social media and news feeds this week.
Kidnappings, murders and the fear endured by families huddled in dark rooms for hours. Other families unable to escape, unable to call for help, unable to access medical care as rockets rain down. Children, the elderly, the most vulnerable caught in the crossfire. These things should not leave us feeling apathetic. The wanton violence and pain inflicted upon any member of our human family should leave us feeling.
Anger at injustice. Weariness at ongoing violence. Sorrow for the loss of life. Raw at the seemingly inevitable cycle, the tit-for-tat nature of conflict. Determined to create something new, something better, something that transcends the complexities of history.
Another story from this past weekend offers gut-wrenching insight into this moment.
There was an earthquake in Afghanistan on Saturday. More than 2,000 people have died, mostly women and children. And, as NPR reported, those women and children died because, when the earthquake began, they rushed into their homes. Why? These communities have become so accustomed to bombings that they know the safest thing to do is find shelter.
They assumed the earthquake was another round of bombs. And when they realized that it was the very ground itself that was splitting, tearing apart the buildings that were supposed to provide refuge, it was too late. The infrastructure collapsed all around them.
More loss of life, loss of children, loss of futures. And for many — from the terrorized people of Israel to the innocent civilians simply trying to survive in Gaza, from the suffering of the people in Afghanistan to the countless other pinpoints of pain around our globe — hope seems all but illusory.
And what can we do? What can we even pretend we’re capable of accomplishing against this great wave of evil and darkness?
We can continue to feel. We can continue to stare evil and suffering and pain straight on. That’s the nature of the First Week of the Spiritual Exercises. Ignatius tells us this: Don’t look away. The brokenness of our world, the disorder and chaos, the rampant greed and the proliferation of violence — this is not what God dreams. This is not what God intends, our God who delights in nothing more than the full flourishing of creation.
And when we stare long and hard at our world, when we contemplate the raw and the real, we might be left wondering: Can things continue this way? Or, is the status quo simply broken?
When violence begets more violence, when suffering begets more suffering, when greed and power flourish while the young and the elderly perish, we know the system has fractured. But what is that new way?
Pope Francis says: “Let it be understood that terrorism and war bring no solution but only death and the suffering of many innocent people. War is a defeat. Every war is a defeat. Let us pray that there be peace in Israel and in Palestine.”
Remember that old hymn, the one that goes: Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me. I think we have to take it seriously. I think we have to look within ourselves. I think we have to imagine something new, beginning with our own relationships.
It was just last week that Pope Francis reminded us in his new apostolic exhortation, Laudate Deum: “I repeat over and over again: ‘Everything is connected’ and ‘No one is saved alone.’” (19)
The vast majority of us can’t make an immediate, tangible difference for the people in Israel, in Gaza, in Afghanistan and so many more. But we can make a difference for the people we see each day, the people within our own orbits. And we have to trust that the impact we have within our circles spills out, bubbles over, reaches farther than we can possible know.
We cannot become inured to this constant violence. I think of those women and children who knew nothing else, who knew only the sounds of falling bombs and so rushed into their homes.
I am haunted by their legacy.
Let us pray for those whose lives have been lost. Let us pray for their families. Let us pray for an end to violence and oppression and hatred. Let us pray for peace.
Eric A. Clayton is the award-winning author of Cannonball Moments: Telling Your Story, Deepening Your Faith (Loyola Press) and the deputy director of communications at the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States. His essays on spirituality, parenting and pop culture have appeared in America Magazine, National Catholic Reporter, U.S. Catholic, Busted Halo and more, and he is a regular contributor to Give Us This Day, IgnatianSpirituality.com and Dork Side of the Force, where he blogs about Star Wars. His fiction has been published by Black Hare Press, the World of Myth Magazine and more. He lives in Baltimore, MD with his wife, two young daughters and their cat, Sebastian. Sign up for his Substack “Story Scraps” here.