EDITORIAL: Suffering and hope

By NEMS Daily Journal

Gov. Barbour’s announcement that application has been made for Tippah, Lafayette, Benton and Alcorn counties to receive federal disaster assistance for damages caused by tornadoes during the May 1-2 weekend offers a measure of reassurance that some of the losses might be tempered by financial assistance from the government.
We hope the formal declarations happen quickly so that maximum help becomes available.
Another layer of damage in those counties and across parts of the south where the storms and floods left 20 or more people dead doesn’t have the same kind of resources for lessening pain.
Grieving families, worried friends and surviving victims in pain from stress and injury, may receive federal aid, but their full healing requires a strength both less tangible and more powerful.
Peter Gomes, writing in “The Good Book,” his commentary on key biblical and life themes, says of dealing with life and death, “Death is the rule to which life is the exception. It is not how long you live but how well you live with what you have …,” and this prayer associated with John Henry, Cardinal Newman, a great 19th century English cleric, “O, Lord, support us all the day long of this troblous life, until the shadows lengthen and the evening comes, and the fever of life is over, and our work is done. Then, in thy great mercy, grant us a safe lodging, a holy rest, and peace at last.”
Many people, without knowing the source, have heard or used that prayer – whether Catholic, Protestant, Jewish or something else.
Newman sought the comfort of religion as an internal source of reliability, not so much to provide easy and absolute answers to difficult and evolving questions.
Gomes writes, “Religion is not the answer to the unknowable, the unfaceable, and the unendurable; religion is what we do and what we are in the face of the unknowable or the unfaceable or the unendurable. It is the constant exercise in the making of sense first, and then of meaning.”
For those who survived the tornadoes and illnesses and for all others who live on when a life much loved has made the transition to safe lodging and holy rest, Gomes suggests looking for the “thin places” where humans encounter God, where the visible and invisible world come into closest proximity.
“…Those who find (the thin places) find the clearest communication between the temporal and the eternal,” Gomes writes.
Gomes, citing the Apostle Paul, also suggests that the great fear is not death itself, but the fear of dying.
“Death holds us hostage to the idea of death, and the loss of all we know and value, and only in life can death rule us in such a way. If, in life, we are attached to more than the mere form and vessel of life, the body, and we recognize that the body is the mere temple of the spirit, the dwelling place of the God who is in us, when we really believe that because of this, death is not to be feared and the body not to be worshipped, then we have been given life after death without having to die. Death is real, we do not dispute that. The body is real; it is no mere phantom or illusion. We do not dispute that. The spirit is also real, in act, more real than death or the body … The spirit lives on, passing through the frontier, the thin place, the border, into a realm that we can only speak of as beyond the grave. It is nothing less than this concept with which Paul arms us … As the old Gospel hymn goes: ‘Faith is the victory that overcomes the world.’”
Those words, or similar ones, offer evidence that what Gomes said about what Paul understood, remains in the active and lively faith of people who suffer and understand loss.