Comfort, Comfort My People

Everybody’s mad.  After last week, who isn’t?  There were bombs, attempted shootings, and then a massacre in a synagogue.  It’s the definition of maddening.  As is always the case, we look for someone or something to blame.  It’s never enough to condemn the immediate perpetrator.  That’s too easy.  We have to go several levels beyond the sticker-covered van or the anti-Semitic online rants.  Who is really to blame?  Who made them do it?  Who put the idea into their head?

Here’s where the real finger pointing begins.  The fault finding takes on an infinite, house of mirrors like quality.  Nothing is solved.  Our divisions grow deeper.  Meanwhile, the dead are still dead and the living grieve as the blame goes round and round.  The dead and the grieving deserve better than the macabre, guilt themed reality show dominating the news.

I have no profound answers.  Everyone seems to know exactly what to do fix anti-Semitism, racism, and cultural division.  I don’t know anything.  I am all out of big, grandiose ideas.  I do, however, have a word for the dead and the grieving.  It is “comfort.”

I am reading the first and second verses of Isaiah 40.  Comfort is repeated twice.  If we require anything, I think we need comfort.  In Hebrew, it is an imperative verb. We are commanded to “comfort” and speak “tenderly.”  In my world, I don’t hear a great deal of comfort.  Even in the pretentious prescriptions of poets, politicians, and pious preachers, there’s little comfort.  I’m reminded of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s December 1942 letter to his colleagues in the resistance:  “What we shall need is not geniuses, or cynics, or misanthropes, or clever tacticians, but plain, honest, and straightforward men. Will our inward power of resistance be strong enough, and our honesty with ourselves remorseless enough, for us to find our way back to simplicity and straightforwardness?”

God calls us to speak straightforward words of comfort.

Nachamu nachamu ami yomar eloheichem – comfort oh comfort my people says your God

In our anger, among our growing madness, where will we find God?  God is in the comfort we say, the comfort we offer, and the tenderness we convey.  God is in the beautiful things transcending life and death.  Simple, straightforward comfort; there we will find God.

Richard Lowell Bryant

*Prayer of Contrition

Thank you, Lord, for Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  I need to be reminded not to be a cynical misanthrope.  Amen.