A girl holds up a U.S. flag during a candlelight vigil in the Dorchester section of Boston April 16, where Boston Marathon bombing victim Martin Richard lived. (CNS photo/Brian Snyder, Reuters)
On the evening of the Boston Marathon bombing I was doing a
radio interview about a book I'd written. Before getting to me, the host asked
listeners to pray for victims of the atrocity in Boston and for the nation.
When my turn came, I said, "My prayer is 'deliver us from evil.'" The
host agreed that was the right prayer.
America the Impregnable? It's just a memory now. The United States used to be
literally beyond the reach of foes, protected by two mighty oceans and peaceful
neighbors. But the cold war, with its ever-present nuclear threat, put an end
to that. And with 9/11, impregnability was a vanished dream.
of course, Americans find themselves menaced not just by foreign
threats--al-Qaeda, North Korea, whatever--but also by a seemingly bottomless
reservoir of home-grown monsters acting out fantasies of homicidal violence in
settings like schools and movie theaters. "Terrorism is a fact of modern
life," an Op Ed commentator pronounces. So, deliver us from facts of modern
nation is responding to the reality of pervasive, universal vulnerability in a
variety of ways. Abroad, President Obama sharply escalates drone attacks on
terrorists--a controversial policy whose strongest talking point may be that it
helps keep us from blundering into another Iraq. Back in the U.S. a homeland
security regime is taking shape, with a burgeoning network of intrusive new
procedures to match. More subtly, pit-of-the-stomach anxiety is likely swelling
the market for escapist entertainment while encouraging some Americans to seek
distraction in outlets like alcohol, drugs, and pornography.
of the times abound. Driving into Washington, D.C. from the Maryland suburbs
the day after the Boston bombing, I encountered a large electric sign
conspicuously placed on the median ahead of me and flashing this message
"See Something/Say Something/Report Suspicious Activity/Call or
E-mail"--with a phone number and e-mail address. Welcome to your nation's
capital in the spring.
is religion's contribution to this new state of affairs? Bury the dead, comfort
the injured, console the survivors of course. And those are eminently
worthwhile things to do. But does faith point to any meaning in current events?
for an answer, I turned to an old book by Caryll Houselander, a notable British
spiritual writer of the last century with a strong mystical streak and a
powerful sense of the Mystical Body of Christ. The book, This War Is the
Passion, was written in wartime London at
the height of the Blitz and published in 1941. The title wasn't poetry but, for
Houselander, a statement of literal fact. "For us," the book begins,
"the war is the Passion of Christ."
is not the place to attempt a genuine summary of this unusual book, much less a
critique. I quote only one passage in illustration of the author's message:
consistent Christian will, with Christ for his strength, be led on to risk all
he has, gladly, offering his sacrifice in reparation for all evil. He will see
men not as people of different nations at war, but as one great family,
wounded, insane, in dire need of healing and help, and in all that he does he
will offer the only healing and help there is, Christ in his heart for a
to the point of being irrelevant? Perhaps. But either this sheds light on the
meaning of events like the London Blitz and the Boston bombing, or else there
is no light to shed. I prefer to think there is.