Lac-Mégantic by Gary Paterson

July 12, 2013

I have hesitated to say anything about the tragedy in Lac-Mégantic – those who have died, or who are presumed dead; those whose lives are devastated by loss – family, friends, homes, businesses, a community. Sometimes we can only stand silent in the face of such pain and sadness.

And yet, over the week I have discovered once again that it helps to pray…as a way of being vulnerable myself to the tragedy of what has happened; to become open to the ache, the tears, the bewilderment, the anger, the horror. I can choose through prayer to be connected with the people of Lac-Mégantic, to carry with them, in some very small way, the grief they are experiencing; to be in solidarity with their pain. I can choose not to avoid, and move on to the next news story, but rather, to remember, to feel; to keep praying…not asking for God to “do” anything – but rather, simply to lift the people of this town into the heart of the Holy. (See “A Prayer for Lac-Mégantic.”)

Photo from the National Post

I am living this week with the story of the Good Samaritan, the gospel lesson for July 14, where Jesus challenges us to love our neighbour in concrete, practical ways. I keep asking myself, what does that mean in the context of this tragedy? Financial gifts? Perhaps. Letters to government, encouraging and commending them to use our tax dollars generously? Possibly. To somehow let the residents of Lac-Mégantic know we are thinking of them, and that we will be in solidarity with them as they move into whatever the future holds.

Maybe being a neighbour means looking at larger issues…transportation of oil; environmental concerns; safety regulations; transportation routes. What doesn’t help, it seems to me, is a “blame game,” with various politicians or business leaders trying to score points, even if it turns out one or some individuals were negligent. The questions are bigger and more important than that, more systemic; and so are the changes that will help us avoid similar tragedies.

There is something so senseless in such a tragedy. I find myself reflecting on the stories of how arbitrary survival can be…one person goes home early from the bar – and lives; another person stays on – and dies. No explanations; no higher purpose. How do we humans live in such a world, both beautiful and tragic? How do we discover the presence of God in such events as these? And, how do we hold to our faith in such a way that there is nothing which can separate us from the love of God? Which brings me back to both silence and prayer; and the people of Lac-Mégantic.

Gary Paterson is the Moderator of the United Church of Canada

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