Street violence and holy darkness

This past Monday one of my former students was shot and killed on the streets of Chicago.

Advent is a time of darkness.  Sometimes it is obvious to us that there’s a such thing as holy darkness. And, sometimes the darkness is so cold and heavy that it seems to swallow our hope.

During Advent we are called to open up our lives to the hope that our heartaches make us hungry for.  No matter how overwhelmed or ugly things may seem, we try to resituate our habits and hearts and create time and spaces so Love may arrive and change us.

When the darkness that corrupts our anticipation is because of ugly injustice, we can become tempted to turn away from Truth.  The Truth is that many powerful promises are packed into the waiting within Mary’s womb.

How do we not give into the temptations so that we remain faithful to our trust in Love?  The nativity story teaches us that we can only do this through community.  Together we know that even when life flings the worst at us we need to allow openings as wide as canyons for Christ’s coming.  No chaos ought to cause us to close our minds or hearts to the changes that come from Christ’s presence.  Really wide openings of anticipation and healing hope emerge when we collect as communities and pray, cry, vigil, and serve together.

Only when we’re bonded together can Christ’s peace crack through the din of despair.  That’s why good Advent activity happens in community.

Mensa’s death on Monday was another moment of senseless street violence. No one should ever be killed by another person, but when the victim is a young man full of great energy it’s especially awful. I knew Mensa  from when I served at the now-closed St. Gregory the Great High School in 2008-2009. Then, he was an ordinary teenage boy who was very kind, smiley, helpful and humble– certainly someone who could have helped create more peace on the streets.

Before my former colleagues reached me with the news about Mensa, another sister and I had spent some of Monday night hanging up Christmas decorations. We giggled, climbed on furniture and hung lights and bows in open spaces around the house as cheery Christmas carols blared from the stereo. I had the special privilege of setting up the simple nativity scene on the commode in our dining room.  The nativity scene is the centerpiece of all our decorations, so I tried to arrange it with great care.

In the creche, Mary, Joseph, an angel, and a couple of animals all are focusing their attention on an empty trough.  When Baby Jesus shows up on Christmas Eve, he’ll get tucked right into the little bed that they’re focused on.  Although Mary and Joseph are technically just figurines in the scene, their posture is a great reminder for me of how to wait in holy darkness.

"Advent Nativity" photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
“Advent Nativity” photo by Julia Walsh FSPA

They’re together. They’re quiet. They’re very still.  They could get tired from being faithful to allowing an open space for God to be between them.  Yet, they boldly believe that Love will arrive, so they continue to wait.

We all are waiting for Love to arrive and feed our hungry, hurting hearts.  We are together, trying to be quiet and still, no matter the commotion.  We may get tired and overwhelmed by the injustices and suffering, yet we’re trying to allow signs of hope to be seen in the darkness. We’ll light candles and vigil on street corners, we’ll fast outside government buildings and we’ll pray through the night. As we do, we’ll create openings for quiet so Christ can come tell us of light, peace, and joy.

The holy darkness gets cold, especially when someone like Mensa dies.  Yet we’ll keep waiting in silent expectation because we still believe. Even in the darkness, healing happens and hope can arrive. Amen!

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  1. Julia, I’m very sorry for the death of that young man. Hope comes because we know “the end of the story”: Jesus conquers death and brings us life.


  2. Thank you for this. I’m so sorry for the loss of your former student! That shooting actually occurred in my neighborhood (just under a mile from my apartment, a few blocks from one of my churches, and in front of Likity Split: a place I sometimes take some of my church youth.) Living in Chicago and hearing about all of the shootings can be so numbing, and too often we just shrug off the news, thinking “it’s just another shooting.” And yet, each life is precious and is cherished by God. Thank you for sharing a bit about who Mensa is.

    In this time of grief and waiting, we can only hold onto the hope and holy light that comes in the midst of the darkness of this world.

    1. Wow, what a connection that you are so nearby where Mensa’s life so tragically started to end… That’s got to be some sacred and holy ground now. Please go there and say a prayer for him if you can. Thanks! And, thanks for your beautiful words too. Peace.

      1. Yes, I will definitely go there and say a prayer for Mensa. (I may even take some of my youth there to do so. Many of them were pretty upset about it. Though they didn’t know him, hearing about the violence against a young man so close to their age and so close to home has been difficult.) Thank you for the work you do in loving God’s children!

      2. Awesome!!! Thanks so much! I’d love to hear how it goes. If you can take pictures and share them that would be especially dear. Thanks be to God for your loving, Christ-centered witness and work of peacemaking. It’s a blessing to be working with you in building the reign of God. BLessings!