Today in Boston

I’d intended to write more about academic (specifically Pagan studies) publishing today, but since I, like everyone else in Boston, am wholly distracted by the manhunt for the Boston Marathon bombing suspect going on in my city, continuing with business as usual seems entirely inappropriate.

Image by the Boston University School of TheologyMy prayers have been with those who were killed or seriously wounded in the bombing. Traumatic events like these can change the lives of individuals and their families forever, and I can only hope that for most, this tragedy will motivate acts of peace and justice. I was touched to see the Boston University School of Theology (BU being my alma mater) asking people to join them in wearing running shoes this week as a symbol of commitment to peace and reconciliation. I’ve heard a number of similar statements around the city declaring that acts of violence and mayhem will not make us afraid. Boston is, after all, a city that has historically valued independence and freedom over a restricted safety–and I do think that there is a necessary tradeoff.

My prayers are also with the innocent bystanders who were made front-page news as potential suspects based on their perceived nationality or the color of their skin. Some of those profiled were runners participating in the marathon to raise money for charity. Listening to the xenophobic overtones of the news coverage today was disturbing: the desperate attempts to paint the bombers as “other,” despite the fact that the younger, at least, came to this country as a child well over a decade ago and seemed to his schoolmates to be a normal American student–an athlete and scholarship winner with friends and a social life. We’d like to think that people wouldn’t hurt their own–their own families, communities, or cities–but statistically, one’s own home, family, or school is where most acts of violence are committed. We are the ones who are a danger to ourselves; no supposedly foreign influence, no suspicious other, is necessary.

My prayers are with the bombers’ family as well. I can only imagine the horror and grief that they must be experiencing, as the interviews I heard this morning suggested that they had no reason to believe their loved ones were capable of such violence.

As saddened as I am by the events of this week, though, they have not changed my perception of the world around me. The world is a dangerous place where people die every day: from car accidents, from starvation, from wars, from diseases. Some of these traumatic events generally only happen far away from me, but the possibility of sudden death is nevertheless real. In just my immediate social network, for example, I know two different people with a young spouse or lover who died suddenly and inexplicably in his sleep. The potential for devastating loss, for the total and unwilling transformation of one’s life, is ever-present.

To me, one of the functions of religion is to help us deal with the difficult realities of the human condition. My practice puts me in touch with the living, sensuous world; even as I write this, I can feel the life-beat of the land and all the creatures that live on and in it, including the noisy humans honking their horns outside my window. I am a part of and connected to something much greater than myself, and I do not believe that death will remove me completely from that web.

My friends, I hope you will be safe today, but more than that, I hope you will remain open and connected to those around you, that you will be motivated by love rather than fear. May justice be done, and afterward, may our grieving knit together the frayed threads of our society and bring us peace.