My daily commute includes three choices on the car radio: NPR for news, ESPN for sports, and a public broadcasting rock station (a unique genre, by the way).
I have avoided the NPR button of late. The primary news item is the killing of 20 school children in a Connecticut elementary school. Such news only weighs on my shoulders and creates pain in my chest.
There is no rational explanation for such an act. Plenty of people are postulating theories, but the young man who pulled the trigger, and the mother who raised him, are both dead. They have each left pieces of evidence behind – all of us leave trails of some sort in our lives – but the scraps may never equal a clean accurate picture. We humans are too obtuse and complex for that.
But the event itself is not the only reason for my aversion to broadcast news. Ingesting this news every morning, at the same time, from the same source, spoken by the same voices, can become overwhelming. Or repetitive. Or numbing. Or all of the above.
I am reading Jan Richardson’s book “Through the Advent Door” during this season. She writes of the ‘little apocalypse’ events that occur frequently in the Bible – events or actions that either foretell something much larger, or that lead to social upheaval, or that represent a new sign from God. Richardson notes that the Greek word apokalupsis, from which we derive the English word, also means ‘revealing’:
Though we most often use the word to refer to a destructive ending of momentous magnitude – namely, the end of the world – at its root, apocalypse simply means revelation: how God unhides Godself.
In the context of horrific events such as the killing of 20 young children, this presents a semantic conundrum. I certainly view any such act as an apocalyptic one -- deadly, destructive, the end of life for so many. It may also lead to significant social action in this country, as we reevaluate whether it makes any sense whatsoever to permit killing machines to be easily available, and whether we are truly helping individuals who suffer from emotional and mental disorders.
But what is revealed? There are those who use this to argue that we have taken God out of the schools and if God were spoken of more often in our schools, such killings would be less prevalent. But God isn’t so easily niched: there are no closed doors to God’s presence, it is not as if God belongs in some places but has to avoid being in others just because we say so.
The reveal at Sandy Hook Elementary may be much more basic: God exists in all such places. We can say Yahweh – that which could not be spoken. We can call out that spirit in Adam Lanza, in each of those children, in the kid wielding a gun in a Denver movie theatre, in the cop or the medic who first enters such a scene. God may be hard to find amidst the evil, but God is. God can be revealed in all.
I may still avoid the news button on my radio. There seem to be too many apocalyptic events, even though my rational mind tells me that such events have always occurred. Given the existence of poverty – physical and spiritual -- on one side of the human ledger and selfishness on the other side, such events in all of their forms will likely continue.
We will seek Yahweh’s spirit in all scenes, whether a ‘little celebration’ or a ‘little apocalypse’. Advent calls us to listen and watch, to be ready.