How Long? (A Prayer in the Wake of the Las Vegas Shootings)

Robert S. Turner
October 3, 2017


How long, O Lord?
How long must we live in this culture of violence where nothing ever seems to change?
How many times must we read and hear and watch reports of mass shootings,
the biggest of all time (until the next one)?
How do we go on, maintaining our belief in the power of love
and our commitment to nonviolence
when we see evidence nearly every day of the power of the bullet,
the rifle,
the high-capacity magazine,
the bomb?
How long before you redeem this blood-soaked world,
restore all hearts to wholeness and innocence,
and banish death and death-dealing forever?

You are going to do that, aren’t you?

We cling to the verities of our faith in times like these,
as we learn more about the terrible aftermath
of those six terrible minutes in Las Vegas,
but the weight on our faith is increasing, and we fear it may buckle.
Shore it up, we pray, or the whole edifice will crumble.
Give us something to believe in,
something to justify hope.

Maybe it’s this:
maybe it’s the story of Jonathan Smith,
who ran back toward the scene of mayhem
and saved as many as thirty lives before he too was shot in the neck.
He will survive, but he may carry the bullet in his body
as an unwelcome souvenir the rest of his life.
Or maybe it’s Jack Beaton, whose last words on this earth were,
“I love you, Laurie,” to the wife he had covered with his body
to take the bullet and spare her life.
He used to tell her that he would die for her.
He was telling the truth.
Or maybe it’s Sonny Melton, the nurse from Tennessee,
who also shielded his wife from the lethal hailstones
by taking several in his own back.
Or maybe it’s the countless concertgoers who showed the best of human nature
by risking their lives to bandage the wounded,
comfort the dying,
guide the panic-stricken to something resembling safety.

Maybe there are reasons to hope.

Let us aspire, O God, to that degree of courage and compassion
in moments extraordinary and everyday:
when the lonely person needs a friend,
when the hungry one needs a meal,
when the discouraged need hope,
the sick need comfort,
the wrong need gentle correction.
Help us to put our lives and souls on the line,
not just in moments of great crisis and danger,
but in the ordinary moments of decision,
when we stand for love in the face of hate,
when we write that letter or send that email or attend that rally or sign that check
to add our little straws to the back of the camel of injustice.

May it break soon.

In the meantime, God,
give us something to help us go on.
Show us glimmers of your grace,
like light under the door of a dark room.
Let us find solace in our friends,
comfort in the arms of those we love,
and redemption in Christ—
the one who willingly set aside the riches of heaven
to be counted among the poor and uncouth,
who walked the dusty paths of Galilee,
declaring to anyone who would listen
that the ascendancy of evil was about to end
and the age of God’s just peace was ready to get underway,
and who died for committing the offense of believing his own message
and looking to implement it.
He too laid down his life for his friends.
By your mercy, God, may we be counted among that number:
friends of Jesus.
Covered by his body as death rains down from above,
may we find the courage to cover others,
to run toward the chaos and carnage,
to speak the word of hope in the moment of despair,
to light a match in a dark room.

All this we will do (with your help) in the meantime.
But you, Lord, only you can end the meantime
and bring the time
of consummation, of peace, of joy, of freedom and justice for all.
Why do you tarry?
Come quickly, Lord! Come soon.

Amen.

Robert Turner