Last week the body of a young woman was found near my house. She was 17 years old. She'd been murdered. The garbage men reported finding her in a supercan in the alley. For a few days she had no name. Now I know her name was Ebony Franklin.
Ebony took a bus from her dad's apartment in my neighborhood to her mom's on the other side of town. She never made it home.
How do we make sense of something senseless? In the days following, I prayed about Ebony's murder. I read the news reports. I prayed for her family and whoever killed her. I tried to find order in the chaos of violence. There's none to be found.
And yet. It is one of the corporal works of mercy to "bury the dead," one of the spiritual works of mercy to "pray for the dead." It is counted as a righteous act. It is an act of justice. Because what we mourn when Ebony Franklin's body is found in a garbage can is the loss of a "way" of life, a value system that holds human dignity as sacred.
The prophet Jeremiah best exemplifies the conflict between dreaming the world as God intends and staring into a body bag holding a child. Grieving, in Jeremiah, is a public act of resistance. It resists the "royal consciousness," to use Walter Brueggemann’s phrase, which would have us believe these things just happen.
"Royal consciousness leads people to numbness," writes Brueggemann, "especially to numbness about death." Numbness occurs when one’s passion is stolen. Literally, it means the removal of one's ability to articulate and claim one’s own suffering.
When we are numb, we behave as others expect us to behave. We let experiences be sold to us as pre-packaged events. But, reminds Jeremiah, it is our ability to claim our own suffering -- our public grieving, our "praying for the dead" -- that enables us to recognize that we are made in God's image, not in the image of empire.