[Holy Spirit, show me that I cannot produce anything for you. In this time, help me abide in you for I am afraid of drifting toward pride or of wasting my time today. I need you as I step out to do something I am drawn to but that doesn’t necessarily come easily to me, writing. I pray that you help me connect with you, to hear your gospel simply for me but that from that place you allow me to write in a way that connects with needs of others. Orient me toward your love and patience. You are the source of all that is good in me, including this time. Jesus, help me abide in you as you abide in the Father. Give to me the Holy Spirit as the Father gave the Holy Spirit to you and enable me to do even greater things. Amen.]
I absolutely love documentaries. However, I have a radar for documentaries that focus on sociological topics using counterintuitive facts to inspire change. Recently I had a few hours of downtime and I decided I wanted to find a new documentary. I surfed through the plethora of options and though several stuck out as potentials, one drew me in yet at the same time repelled me. It was the documentary called White Helmets. Basically, White Helmets is about an organization of first responder volunteers, known as the White Helmets in Syria who are constantly on call when bombs are dropped throughout the country.
I found myself repelled mainly because what has happened in Syria has felt so hopeless and this feeling has invited me to into a state of helplessness. I also have felt deep sorrow in the past for Syria, particularly for Allepo, the hardest hit city in the entire country. I felt repelled from this documentary because, if I’m honest, I had given the conflict in Syria adequate attention and love, and in a world with many problems, minimal amounts of attention to anything or anyone should be considered noble and sufficient.
But I paused to listen to the inner story that told me I could stop caring since I had cared more than most ever will. After pausing I came to face yet another inner story. This was the story of sorrow and sadness; it was a narrative of deep longing to alleviate pain but of utter helplessness to do a damn thing. This all transpired before the opening credits!
Emotions swirling, tears welling up and my throat contracting like an accordion I came to realize that the entire documentary was going to take place with no English subtitles. Now we’ve all seen movies, which for a scene or two will not show subtitles, and we know in those movies there is an artistic license being used to draw the audience into the emotion of the moment. Since these are typically short segments the audience can use context clues to piece together what is happening.
But this was different. Apart from the names and former occupations of these men, the entire documentary was in Arabic. At one moment, roughly twenty minutes in, the thought came to mind that I should watch something else, after all, I can’t understand anything anyone is saying and who would blame me for not watching a documentary that I couldn’t understand?
It was something quite small to watch a documentary entirely in Arabic but I found a profound new truth.
You see I didn’t know these men apart form their names. When they ate together I did not understand their customs. As bombs rained down I could not distinguish certain districts or streets and when men dug through rubble and rebar to pull a seven year old girl from a cocoon of cement I did not know names or relationships present at the scene. Had I had subtitles or a British commentator maybe I could have understood better. I could have at least been more informed and been able to make a more rational decision as to how I should side with the conflict in Allepo. Furthermore, had I had more knowledge I could have certainly been praying specifically for these men, their families and the victims.
But had I been blessed with subtitles, though I could have known what they were saying, I would have been looking at their words and not their eyes. Had I been able to see their words I would have better understood their relationships and known the significance of the busted buildings but I may have not looked at the buildings as if they were my own. Had I understood which children belonged to which White Helmet volunteer I most certainly would not have seen that their children are also mine and I would have been tempted to disbelieve that I am immediately connected through bone of my bone to these children, women, men who suffer greatly.
I think this a vital paradigm for the Church because we are a people who have a lot of understanding based on scroll bars of information from many opinionated sources. We enter the pain of the world like we’d enter an ICU, readied with scrubs, mask and non-latex gloves in hopes that we can objectively estimate and address the pain of those around us.
If we could only estimate it then we could solve it, or at least pray for it. After all, knowledge is power and if you are a good American you know that power is what changes things and it is the greatest who become greater and help others do the same.
In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus answers His disciples who long to know when they will see Him again. Jesus speaks of many things that will happen in that age but the one thing that he says which is the heart of that age will be that the “love of many will grow cold.”
I think there are two options we tend to lean toward in the face other’s pain and suffering. We are tempted either to tune it out or turn in off because we simply do not understand it. It is not our language. Or we are tempted to listen like armature scientists, dissecting the pain until we can be better conversationalists or even be more knowledgeable prayer-warriors.
What we rarely do; however, is allow others pain, no matter how much we understand it, to fall with it’s full weight on our heart. We keep a bird’s-eye perspective so not to become overwhelmed by the growing wickedness but it doing so we fail to enter the heart of God. We fear being crushed by the weight of our neighbor’s pain because surely it will kills us, surely we too will be be able to breath, but I’m learning that true righteousness is not found in wise and objective perspective but in allowing ourselves to be bruised, beaten and crushed by the brokenness of humanity.
When we are crushed our prayers become real for then they come from desperation. When we allow the pain of others to crush us then we pray as people who are also being crushed. Our prayers become more simple because we find that air is not as plentiful down there and this is beautiful because it is here that we find the Holy Spirit praying through us through grunts and groaning too deep for words.