Shadow of Death
We live under the Shadow of Death. We are coming out of a worldwide pandemic that so far has taken over 600,000 American lives and sickened millions. It ain’t over yet. But then there is also the epidemic of gun violence. Every week, almost every day, we wake up to new stories of senseless murder by angry usually men against innocent people who are just going about their business. It can happen anywhere, anytime, and any place, and to any of us. It is sad and depressing. How do we cope? I don’t have any answers. I would like to share with you how I cope. If any of this will work for you, use it. The important thing is that you find what works for you and do it.
First: I never watch breaking news, no exceptions. When I watch senseless, real-time violence, the visual image gets recorded in my brain and I can’t delete it. They affect my emotions and my moods and my mental health. I get all my news from ink on paper or text on a screen. Much better for me. Plus I am selective about what I read.
Second: Every day and every week, I make and take, private time for myself which I call seclusion. I cut myself off from the world: media, phone, people, and noise as best I can. When you live on one of the busiest intersections in San Diego, that ain’t easy. I have learned to think of the sound of fire engines and ambulances as the sound of Angels going to someone’s aid. Yes, it helps if you use your imagination. This is quiet time. Its purpose is to slow down your thinking and create a quiet place where you can just be. I use centering prayer, meditation, and contemplation. These are skills that have to be learned. You have to start at the beginning. Most churches don’t do a very good job of helping people learn these skills. But I find them essential for my survival in today’s world.
Third: Find the right words. Words are how I communicate with the world and the world with me and I with myself. I use poetry, novels, lyrics to rock songs, old hymns, folk songs, philosophers, scripture, and even conversation with strangers on the bus. Words are everywhere. I avoid negative words and focus on the positive. But to find words that work for me, I have to spend a good amount of time reading and studying the world’s literature. A phrase from the old Jewish Psalm of David, The 23rd, got me through the AIDS crisis, Covid, and now the epidemic of Gun Violence. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me.” The words may not keep it from happening but they will have me ready if it does. Their purpose is to comfort me and center me, to give me inner strength. I use my “words” like mantras. They keep me present, focused, and my emotions under control. I try to never give in to anger, fear, or anxiety.
So these are some of the tricks that I use to keep my wits about me in these strange days. If you think they might work for you, try them out. Some of you probably already do.