Yesterday I participated in an event put on by the Center for Social Concerns at Notre Dame. We gathered in front of Geddes Hall (about 35 of us, maybe a few more), and started with a brief prayer for peace in our communities. We were then handed candles, either a large glass enclosed one with a name on it, or a smaller wax candle. (The sort you get at the Easter Vigil.)
Those with glass candles were asked to come forward after the initial prayer. As each of their candles was lit individually, we were instructed to say the name that was printed on the front of the candle. There was a call and response, "Our blood cries out oh Lord," and then "Michael Brown," and then the crowd responded with a plea for God to answer our prayer for peace.
I was handed a glass candle. It has Trayvon Martin's name on it. When I heard what we would be expected to do, I was filled with a sort of mild anxiety. Not because I'd have to speak in public or anything, but -- rather -- because I felt profoundly unworthy. I realize that my connection with racial inequality is almost purely abstract and theoretical. I've never felt victimized by systemic injustice in the way a black man or woman my age almost certainly has. When I hear about police shootings or other gun violence, I'm filled with pity and sadness and an empathetic anger, but never fear. I've never thought: "That could have been me," or "I'm just lucky to be alive after that encounter."
In short: I felt like too much of an outsider to proclaim the name of a man who was killed in a racially motivated attack.
But I'd been handed the candle. So I stood there. And I prayed.
Here's something I experienced in that moment: a profound connection with those around me at this vigil. I felt like we were a community of believers. Believers not just in God or some systematic doctrine or religious truths (though I felt that to some extent, too), but believers in peace and justice. Our faith was evident in our presence.
The road of peaceful non-violence is a long road. It's a road we're always struggling to stay on, but it's a road worth taking.
We believe. ...
Communities can come together in respect and in love. God hears the prayers of his children. Our blood cries out for justice.
Christ died a violent death. He came to bring peace, to challenge the status quo, and to give us the moral vision to seek justice in love, and he was killed for it. Still he did not raise a hand to his attackers. He remained silent when presented with the false political dilemmas of Pilate and others. He spoke the truth as a whisper in the wild winds of the desert.
I have to say: this was a pretty powerful moment for me. As someone who often struggles to feel a spiritual connection, and who was -- in that moment -- struggling to feel a communal connection, this was all experienced as a form of grace. An almost tangible experience of the presence of the Holy Spirit. I was a priest with a t-shirt over his clerics that said "Solidarity is Development," and I thought: yes.
This is where the spirit dwells. Amongst those who actively work and pray for peace.