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8 Minutes and 46 Seconds

Tuesday afternoon I was part of a phone conversation with Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and other faith leaders where we observed an 8 minute and 46 second period of silence in memory of George Floyd. I had hoped that this moment would be a profound point of connection, a means by which we all might feel ourselves unified in our grief, our outrage, and our conviction. Unfortunately, we were somewhat let down by our technology. It’s difficult to have a moment of profound connection via conference call – more difficult still to have a moment of holy stillness when people don’t understand the protocol or their own phones and so the moment of “silence” has to be regularly punctuated with reminders of what we’re doing and pleas of, “Won’t you please, please mute yourselves?!” It reminded me of my first visit to the Sistine Chapel, where any sense of wonder and awe was undercut by the guards periodically screaming, “SILENZIO!” in an entirely un-chapel-like way. The phone call, too, was not exactly what I expected – a wonderful, important idea, but not exactly what I was hoping for.

And so I chose to do the same thing myself, alone, and in silence. I knelt on the floor for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. I felt the ground under my knees and I felt the seconds tick by and I prayed. I prayed for mercy. I prayed for conversion. I prayed for George Floyd. I prayed for Derek Chauvin. I prayed for our nation. I prayed for all those people of color who have had to live in fear of moments just like this for all of their lives. I prayed for people like me who have been able to live without any such fears. I prayed for hearts to be broken and mended – scarred so that we never forget, but knit together and made new and strong by the God who creates, tends, and transforms us.

To echo the comments of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi earlier this week, 8 minutes and 46 seconds is a very, very long time. As I knelt, I found myself wondering how any human being could make someone suffer for so long. But then I realized that we human beings can cause suffering that lasts a lot longer than just a few minutes. We hold on to hatred and prejudice, we ignore injustice in the world and in the Church, we withhold forgiveness, cling to self-preservation, or refuse to love for days, months, years. Our society, our own Church, our own selves have all caused suffering, sometimes intentionally, and sometimes just because we can’t be bothered to be bothered. As I knelt there in the silence, I felt the weight of my own sin, the sin of racism, the sins of our nation. I felt the weight of 8 minutes and 46 seconds.

But the good news, my sisters and brothers and siblings, is this – God does not take that long. It takes only an instant for Grace to break through; it takes only a spark for the light of Christ to shine in the darkness, shattering the darkness of sin and violence and revealing the saving work of the one who suffered and died on the cross. It takes only one second for us to stop and open ourselves up to that Grace, to pause before speaking, to breathe, to look for the Christ in the other, to acknowledge that there is always more we can do to love God, our neighbors, and ourselves. Our work will go on – the work of justice and peace, the work of our baptismal vows – but God’s transformational love is always available to us – instantly, and eternally. May we know and choose and live the power of that love this minute, this second, and all of the seconds to come.

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