Las Vegas: Surprised by Joy

As I reflect on the shooting in Las Vegas, one thought keeps returning. Over and over again, my mind returns to the image of a person hunched over an open casket, looking breathlessly upon the deceased, wondering how their beloved could be dead. Twenty-four hours earlier, they had planned on spending decades together. But those decades are gone, stolen in just a few minutes of unexpected violence.

I am, in many ways, speechless. It feels partially obtuse to try to write something addressing this topic. I feel unworthy to even speak of it. Art offers a medium for us to dialogue with our deepest feelings and pains, emotions that can remain unarticulated in our souls for years. Still, I believe that some feelings can only be touched and explored from a distance by artists and storytellers. I believe that some groans of pain cannot be put into words.

And so, for this blog post, I defer to William Wordsworth’s poem “Surprised by Joy.” Perhaps it can offer us a taste of what it means to lose a loved one, to help us remember what those affected directly by Las Vegas may be experiencing today.

The poem tells the story of a person who has lost their beloved and catches themselves feeling happiness for a short moment. The narrator is plagued with guilt that he could ever feel joy when his loved one lies silent in the grave. I am not suggesting that those affected by Las Vegas are feeling joy right now, but, of the poems I know, this most accurately has shown me what it means to lose someone to the evil of death.

Surprised by joy—impatient as the Wind
I turned to share the transport—Oh! with whom
But Thee, long buried in the silent Tomb,
That spot which no vicissitude can find?
Love, faithful love, recalled thee to my mind—
But how could I forget thee?—Through what power,
Even for the least division of an hour,
Have I been so beguiled as to be blind
To my most grievous loss!—That thought’s return
Was the worst pang that sorrow ever bore,
Save one, one only, when I stood forlorn,
Knowing my heart’s best treasure was no more;
That neither present time, nor years unborn
Could to my sight that heavenly face restore.

So, to sum it up: The narrator feels an intense experience of joy (Surprised by joy), and turns with a smile to share the feeling with his beloved, assuming that the beloved is standing next to him (I turned to share the transport). However, as he turns to share this amazing felicity, he is forced to remember afresh that his beloved has passed away (…buried in the silent Tomb). His heart screams out in guilt that he could ever experience joy without his beloved (how could I forget thee?…to be blind/to my most grievous loss?). He says that the guilt’s pain is the worst he has ever felt, save one exception, when he first stood forlorn after his beloved’s death so many years ago, knowing that his beloved would never be restored to him.

This is a sadness that we sit in now. The poem gives us a faint inkling of the pain that some are going through; the sadness of never seeing their beloved family and friends again on Earth.

Still, as we sit quietly in this pain, we must not forget that Christ has risen from the grave and conquered death. It’s in the pain of hunching over a casket that we understand the hope of the coming resurrection even more. Wordsworth’s poem does not mention this. God does not neglect our pain, nor does he ask that we suppress our lamentations and groans of agony. But he does ask that we trust in the Messiah to redeem our pain and pull meaning from it. In the face of death, we see how powerful our God is. Only the God that has crushed death is worth worshipping. He is our Father, comforting us in tragedy with His presence.

We long for the resurrection. We long for the time when the saying will come to pass, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” In light of Las Vegas, we remember how beautiful the hope of resurrection is for those in Christ, and we remember that our God has not left us alone in our pain, but has suffered with us on the cross.

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