Once Again, Into the Breach

The one thing to do when there is nothing to do.

Todd Brewer / 2.25.22

My earliest memory of global chaos was Operation Desert Storm in the first grade. After an announcement went over the loudspeaker, my teacher uncharacteristically asked the class to pray for her son stationed in the Middle East. A decade later, I stood in the library wordlessly watching black smoke escape from a skyscraper before a second explosion, more smoke, and then sudden catastrophe. Amid whispers of war and a military draft, shock and awe became a television spectacle. This short-lived patriotism soon gave way to a rancor and mistrust that would be eventually  eclipsed by the 2008 financial collapse. At just the point when I, and many of my peers, had entered the workforce. The years to follow would see bailouts, political polarization, racial unrest, and the worst global pandemic in a century.

Today, there are Russian troops marching within the Capital of Ukraine, whose president warned of a large European war. Russia’s president threatened nuclear war for those who interfere.

It might be too much to ask, but it’d be nice to not have to live through another “unprecedented” historical event. Every generation sees its share of misfortunes — to be sure — but a renewed Cold War feels a little too on-brand for millennials. Some will say that such pessimism is a bit too alarmist. Perhaps what unfolds in Ukraine is not a portent on par with the death of Franz Ferdinand. Perhaps there is no other shoe to drop.

But alarmism is the mood for many, and not only because it garners clicks in the media. When the unprecedented occurs with surprising regularity, one can be forgiven for assuming the worst. Too much has happened in recent decades to blissfully assume otherwise.

After decades of unbroken economic prosperity, the optimism of post-World War II gave way to the jaded cynicism. Never having known stability as adults, the tumult of the news cycle is, for many, simply just the way things are. Life feels juxtaposed between the drama of world events and the anxiety and joys of everyday life. Between the ding on the smartphone and the laughter of your child down the hall. The moral universe feels less like an arc and more like the stock market. Lost is the anticipation that goodness will unambiguously win in the end. The past is no longer viewed as a reliable predictor for what the future will hold. The only certain thing, it seems, is uncertainty.

World events have a way of making one feel helpless. On 9/11, my high school’s classes were unofficially canceled. We weren’t sent home or anything, but shuffled from room to room to stare at the TV in disbelief. Adults were making decisions in some hidden room far away, and we were left wondering what comes next. It soon was vowed that we would “never forget” what happened, a slogan that has had an unforeseen dark side. The cataclysm of that day was just the first of many in the years that would follow. Each time habituated the same anxieties and frustrations at a world that seems destined to decline into chaos.

Powerless amid the theater of global politics, all that we spectators can do is retweet our rage into the void — or pray. As news of the invasion broke yesterday, both happened simultaneously. Tweets went out condemning the invasion while prayers ascended to heaven from across the world, crying out for peace in our time.

When tragedy strikes closer to home, public calls for prayer are routinely mocked as empty words. But prayer is precisely the best course of action to take when we find ourselves transfixed by events over which we are powerless. When we are yet again reminded of our finite capability to control the uncontrollable. When the bombs begin to drop upon a nation whose only crime is sharing a border with a nuclear superpower.

In the face of unprecedented events and uncertain consequences, faith springs to life in the form of prayer, boldly asking God to hasten his promised kingdom of peace. If the news is too difficult to bear, faith looks to one whose power exceeds our own. Overwhelmed by calamity, faith calls upon the God who does not stand wordlessly aloof from his creation. Prayer is the one thing to do when there is nothing to do.

As news of the Persian Gulf War was announced to my first-grade class, my classmates and I sat in quiet despair and confusion. Can children fully understand the implications of armed conflict? Can adults? But in that moment, something unexpected happened. We learned what would be the most important lesson taught in that classroom all year. More important than learning to read. My teacher did not share our wordless sorrow, but instead asked us for prayer.

subscribe to the Mockingbird newsletter


2 responses to “Once Again, Into the Breach”

  1. […] crisis in Europe has taken center stage this week, and for understandable reasons. I wrote my own thoughts on the subject for Mbird earlier today and Nadia Bolz-Weber’s reflection on Jesus’ […]

  2. […] (which is infinitely more helpful than just my doom-scrolling), acknowledging our powerlessness,  (saying a prayer) and moving on with the needs of the day. There was once a time when it was considered a moral […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *