We must not give up as agents of hope: A reflection from Bishop Gates in the aftermath of violence

Following is a letter issued July 12 to the people of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts from Bishop Alan M. Gates regarding the violent tragedies of the last week.

Dear people of the Diocese of Massachusetts,

Last weekend I made a two-day silent retreat at the Trappist Abbey in Western Massachusetts.  It came as we were all still reeling from two more senseless deaths of black men at the hand of law enforcement officers, and the horrific deadly assault on police officers in Dallas.

In the first hours of my time at the Abbey, I picked up Jean Vanier’s book Becoming Human, and happened upon this paragraph:

I once visited a psychiatric hospital that was a kind of warehouse of human misery.  Hundreds of children with severe disabilities were lying, neglected, on their cots.  There was a deadly silence.  Not one of them was crying.  When they realize that nobody cares, that nobody will answer them, children no longer cry.  It takes too much energy.  We cry out only when there is hope that someone may hear us.   [NYC: Paulist Press, 1998; p. 9]

The image is devastating.  In moments of deep despair, when all hope is lost, silence ensues.

The seemingly intractable cycle of violence which has taken hold of our nation has caused our despair to grow yet deeper in the past month.  Multiple tribulations intersect in varying toxic combinations:  the violence of religious extremism; continuing vulnerability of the LGBTQ community; deeply ingrained, systemic racism; the dual need for accountability from and support for our police forces; and unconscionably easy availability of deadly weapons.

We might well feel weary of crying out, or become convinced that no one will hear us.  We could fall silent, like those hopeless children.  But we must not.  We must not cease lamenting, not cease striving, not cease praying, not cease reconciling, not cease demanding of ourselves an honest self-examination, not cease demanding that those who govern on our behalf would do so with clarity of vision and courage of conviction.  We must not cease hoping, and not give up acting as agents of that hope.

The Cross of Christ bears witness that hatred and brutality are to be met with neither fight nor flight, but with a compassionate clarity of purpose that demands only love, and effects only reconciliation.

The Rt. Rev. Alan M. Gates