The attack on Paris was in a specific part of the 11th arrondissement, where many young people frequent. It was a mild night, so there were many people out, living. Bombs were exploding near a crowded football stadium where the French National Team was playing. The stories of gunmen slowly firing, reloading, and firing again are emerging. Their pace sounded methodical. Now, there are over 120 dead, and the outpouring of global support has begun.
Chelsea, her parents, and I went to France once for a wedding. Never in my wildest imagination did I believe that I would ever go to France. I never thought that I would have the opportunity to travel to Europe, let alone France, in my lifetime. The possibility never crossed my mind because it just felt so far away for a boy growing up in New Jersey. I remember flying in to Charles de Gaulle airport, and seeing the Eiffel Tower from the plane. It felt so magical to see this city that I had only read about in history books and stories of fiction. We spent a few days in the city after the wedding, and I felt that magic first hand. We walked around Notre Dame and the Louvre; we watched as the Eiffel Tower flickered its lights in front of the night sky. We walked to the top of that tower and looked out over the city’s lights. It was an incredible picture of life in vibrant hues painted across the darkened streets of the night.
Now, Paris sits in darkness. The lights of the Eiffel Tower were turned off to honor the victims of this senseless attack. President Francois Hollande has declared this attack an act of war by ISIS, and ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attacks. The threat of terrorism continues to rear its ugly head, and has done so since 2001. Perhaps this is the beginning of another war with a faceless enemy, a combatant that takes on many forms: violence, ideology, hatred, all hidden in the hearts of mind of a few misguided human beings.
We can never fully understand the motives or thought processes possessed by those who perpetrate terrorist actions, nor can we ever fully understand the horrific pain of those who lose loved ones in attacks like those that happened last night. What we can know is that, right now, another city is dealing with the unimaginable. I long for the words, but there aren’t any that can be said. Words only go so far, and sometimes do not get at the heart of what needs to be done in moments of grief.
I think about the moment before Jesus was taken from the Garden when he simply asked Peter, James, and John to “watch and pray.” It reminds me of a song by the Taizé community whose text reads, “stay with me / remain here with me / watch and pray / watch and pray.” In this moment of unimaginable tragedy, when we do not have the words to name the pain that those in Paris and other countries that experience terrorism feel now, perhaps we are being called to remain with these suffering people, in silence, with no words, allowing the spirit of the God of abundant life to move within each of us. The Lord of Life is reaching out to us, speaking to us, even now. In silence, let us listen to this God through the stories of those who have fallen and the tears shed for them.