Of course, Chattanooga has had its own tragedy lately. In 2013 it was inconceivable to me that just a few years later we would become the focus of the nation as a result of another senseless act of hate. But we did become the focus, and I was struck by the outpouring of concern from other regions. Photos of billboards and signs were posted on the internet from places such as Boston and New York. We even took a catch phrase based from the Boston tragedy, Chattanooga Strong.
I recently finished reading a one volume selection of journals by the great 20th century monk, Thomas Merton. The Intimate Merton captures a great deal of Fr. Merton's experiences as he grew and developed as a monk and writer. In one of the early passages, written shortly before he took his monastic vows in 1941, Merton writes about the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky. Merton came to spend most of his life there as a monk. "This is the center of America," Merton wrote. "I had wondered what was holding the country together, what has been keeping the universe from cracking in pieces and falling apart. It is this monastery if only this one."
Although you could attribute such a sentiment to youthful enthusiasm, it does express something of a concern. Certainly a lot in modern America seems to be pulling us apart. Contemporary politics and the media are partly to blame. But what holds us together? Maybe it is kind of a moral and spiritual undertone that allows us to stay connected. Maybe this is what Merton was sensing. Last week I heard about something that is happening in Chattanooga. While continuing to pray for the victims of the recent shootings, prayers are now being said for the family of the shooter, the family that also lost a son. If there is any good that comes out of these sorts of things, maybe it is that it allows us to experience the connection we have to one another, connections that are able to withstand quite a bit. Such tragedies can expose the hidden ground of love, as Merton would say.