Another day, another tragedy. USA Today reports that 2017 has been the deadliest year in at least a decade for mass shootings in the US. Allegations continue to surface about powerful men sexually harassing and abusing the people around them. All of this after a summer/fall of nearly unprecedented natural disaster in our hemisphere. How can we keep from going numb?
It's a natural reaction to too much pain. Let's shut down the nerve centers that tell our brains something's deeply wrong. When it comes to our emotions, we're sometimes afraid if we feel the pain we won't be able to function. So we distract ourselves with entertainment, addictions, and self-interested time consuming goals for our careers or travel experiences. If we're busy or distracted, we won't have time to feel, and we won't be in danger of shutting down.
But the truth is quite the opposite, if we don't feel the pain we won't be able to function because we will not address the cause of the pain, the thing threatening to destroy us. If we numb the pain of gun violence, we'll stop looking for a solution. If we numb the pain of natural disasters and their effects, we won't give to relief efforts or hold our public officials accountable for low levels of response. Numbness doesn't just stop the pain, it stunts progress.
So here are some spiritual practices that could help you un-numb yourself:
- Contemplative prayer - Use the daily examen, a gift from the practice of St. Ignatius. The five movements of the prayer (Become aware of God's presence, Review the day with gratitude, Pay attention to our emotions, Choose one feature of the day and talk to God about it, Pray about tomorrow.) help us connect with our emotions and bring them before God.
- Spiritual friendship - Share with a caring friend how you're feeling, or not feeling, about what's going on in the world. My guess is they'll understand, and sometimes having someone who's willing to share our pain makes it easier to bear. Maybe even take some time to pray, to lament together about what's going on in the world.
- Befriend actual hurting people - It's easier to numb out when the people in pain are statistics on a graph or faces on the news. But when you know them, when they know you, when you look into each others eyes and share jokes and stories and experiences, your soul has more room for their pain and your own. Have a real conversation with the person asking you for money on the street, and you'll likely find your spirit expanding it's capacity.
When we numb ourselves, we not only stunt our potential to do justice, but also to feel joy! If you're nerves aren't letting pain through, pleasure can't get through either. At the end of the day, joy and lament go hand in hand.
Practices like these are what Oakland Communion is about. If you need a community with which to engage your pain, pursue justice, and experience joy, you are more than welcome.