We've all heard the news by now: A student at Virginia Tech University killed thirty-two people and then himself, in the deadliest shooting incident in modern U.S. history. All of us at the Circle of Atonement extend our heartfelt condolences and prayers to everyone touched in any way by this tragedy.
How should we as Course students respond to this? Many Course students wonder if it is appropriate to feel sadness and grief when things like this happen, since the Course tells us that ultimately, it is all illusion. Of course, if you are directly affected by these events, the question of whether sadness is "appropriate" is largely moot-shock, anger, and grief are almost certainly going to be there, and the Course would never have us deny our experience of those feelings. And I think that sadness is a perfectly natural response even for those of us not so directly affected, for even if this is all ultimately illusion, the suffering and death of Monday's shootings feel all too real to those directly impacted. Compassionate grief is only natural when we see our brothers and sisters in pain.
The Course material itself contains examples of such compassionate grief. It speaks of us looking upon the world's madness "with pity and compassion" (T-19.IV(D).11:2). In the Urtext, Jesus says of the Nazi Holocaust, "I shed many tears over this, but it is by no means the only time I said 'Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.'"The Course refers to the "tears of Christ" (T-17.IV.10:5), and says that even "God weeps at the 'sacrifice' of His children who believe they are lost to Him" (T-5.VII.4:5). If God can weep, then certainly so can we.
Once we are in touch with the darkness of our grief, the Course would have us try to bring it to the light for healing. Many things can aid in this; talking to others about what we're going through, especially a trained counselor, can be a huge help. But above all, on the Course's path we bring about this healing through Course practice: Usually, repeating some words from the Course that represent the light of truth. This is a gentle process. It is not an act of bludgeoning our sadness and tears into oblivion with an iron fist; rather, it is an act of gently bringing our dark grief to the light of God's Love, where it can be shined away. If our grief is great, it will probably not be "shined away" with one practice period. But each time we let the light shine, a little more of the darkness goes.
And the Course promises that through this process, the darkness will one day all be shined away. When confronted with something as horrifying as the Virginia Tech shootings, it's difficult to believe that this is so. Yet the Course assures us that the end of all sadness is guaranteed, because that is God's Will: "He would have all tears be wiped away, with none remaining yet unshed, and none but waiting their appointed time to fall" (W-pI.193.9:4). This can be a very reassuring thought, even if the tears are still flowing for the time being.
With this in mind, I've composed a little prayer based on a few of my favorite lines from the Workbook (in Lessons 245, 301, and 317). It is a prayer that God's peace surround everyone involved, and help us to embrace the greatest promise of the Course: that no matter what seems to happen to us in this vale of tears, we remain as God created us, His beloved children, untouched by tragedy of any kind, safe in His tender embrace. These words represent the light of truth, and I hope you will find them illuminating in the darkness of Monday's tragic shootings.
as we witness the pain and suffering and death
that seem to envelop Virginia Tech,
as our hearts overflow with grief,
and with compassion for our beloved brothers and sisters,
let us remember that even in the midst of the deepest, darkest tragedy,
Your peace surrounds us.
Where we go, Your peace goes there with us.
It brings its healing balm to the desolate and lonely and afraid.
It brings comfort to those who suffer pain,
or grieve for loss,
or think they are bereft of hope and happiness.
Let us remember that You Yourself shall wipe away all tears,
Let us remember that all sorrows shall end in Your embrace,
which You have promised to all of us,
For whatever tragedies seem to befall us,
we have never wandered
from the sure protection of Your loving Arms.
P.S. Another huge issue in this situation is, of course, forgiveness. How do we forgive the gunman who did this? I've written a Q & A on this topic that you may find helpful. It is at the following URL on the Circle's website: http://www.circleofa.org/question/forgiving-all-people/