Bleak Theology A post-punk counterweight to joy.

In Another School, Sudden Death and its Untimeliness

Parents wait for news after a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. | Joel Auerbach

Last night, I saw this photo. My heart broke again.

The day was already strange enough, love and death juxtaposed and mixed. And then the shooting started. Our acknowledgement of the inevitable future of our collective and individual demise was met by the catastrophic present of another school transformed into an abattoir. We did not intend for the day to go this direction.

To attempt to manage the mystery and incomprehensibility of time, we create the boundary of timeliness. Timeliness is order and prediction. Christianity calls this kind of time “kairos,” the fullness of time. We know it by its footprints, because we can only discern it when it is past. There is another Greek word about time, “horos,” referring to time’s boundary and demarcation. “Horology,” the science of clocks, and “horoscope” are two cognates about time and prediction. Creating limits provides our sense of mastery and control.

To ensure such mastery and control, one anticipates and prepares for time by remembering the stories and promises heard before. It’s a feature of prophecy, even if that prophecy is nothing more than an “if-then” statement. Ash Wednesday is our observation of this kairos. If you are alive, then you will die. If you are made of dust, you will return to dust. But when we go through our motions and rituals, we expect a safe distance from death, because rituals are ways we acclimate ourselves to the ways of life’s time. This does not always happen.

Ritualized death is death made timely, it is appropriated death for our own purposes for living and dying. Ritualized death functions to soften the blow. Good Friday. Halloween. Día de Muertos. Memorial Day. Armistice Day. Ritualized death is expectant death, because death is so often unexpected. Ritualized death is death with a purpose, death with a story – a story we tell and share with each other, as best we can, as much as we want to. Yet, the story of death can never fully be told or explained, even as we seek to explain it to ourselves in the depths of our hearts.

The ancient Greeks were all too familiar with untimely death, mortality as it was then. They had a special name for those those who died too early, the “aoroi,” those who fell outside the boundaries of time, the appropriate times of their lives. The aoroi were the souls of children, trapped forever at their graves, between the worlds of the living and the dead. Sometimes, their restless souls were exploited by necromancers, child predators whose incantations sought to force the doomed to do their bidding.

Sometimes, I think of the aoroi when I hear of school shootings. I think about the lobbyists and legislators who prey upon them, who exploit their lives for the easy availability and violence of guns. They ignore the souls’ cries for relief and justice and they claim we need AR-15s to protect the remaining living children we have. The ancient necromancers would often build into their spells wards against the spirits they enslaved to protect themselves from those souls’ attacks. Would that our dead have such power. Their memory and mourners remain ineffective. Our lamentation remains a catharsis that wields no real political force.

“Thoughts and prayers” are as cold as the leaked blood upon classroom floors. “Thoughts and prayers” are the most useless of divine hands. “Thoughts and prayers” are the platitudes of gnosticism. Say what you mean! Say you lament! Cry out the words! Cry out the choking sounds! It is lamentation, nothing less! If you share such suffering, then say and show you suffer. Do not let the untimely dead remain restless. Do not dare say that “everything happens for a reason” or “God has a plan.” What plan could God have for a murdered child, a child made untimely by human hate?

Lament and create justice or remain complicit in your silence and inaction.

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By Burke
Bleak Theology A post-punk counterweight to joy.


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