Reviewing all the various spiritual direction emails and newsletters I receive, it seems that most of us have a greater need this year for a Lent of somber reflection and yes, even grieving. In fact, I’m so personally burdened this year in heart, mind and soul that I’m not able to join in the revelry of Mardi Gras. The spirit of celebration has departed.

My heart’s burden stems from new awareness of how bloody American society has become, and of how little we believers are doing to stop the carnage. Let me try to explain.

On Feb. 2, two men, Chris Kyle and Chad Littlefield, were shot to death at close range by a third man, a mentally troubled veteran named Eddie Ray Routh, who police say has admitted to the killings. The three men had gathered at a shooting club outside of Glen Rose, Texas, a town some 50 miles southwest of Fort Worth.

The full nature of this tragedy deepens when one learns its circumstances. Chris Kyle was an ex-Navy SEAL, a celebrated marksman known as “the most lethal sniper in American history” for his killing of some 160 enemies during the Iraq War. He wrote an autobiography called “American Sniper” that became a best seller.

However, Kyle left his military career a few years ago in order to spend more time with his wife and their two children, now ages 8 and 6. Upon his return to civilian life, Kyle helped create a foundation that seeks to aid other veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder by providing counseling and exercise equipment. As those who suffer many ailments know, physical activity can be a good antidote for mental distress, thanks to the release of pain-relieving chemicals called endorphins.

In keeping with this idea, Kyle took Routh to the shooting range as an act of physical and mental therapy. Apparently, according to one of my knowledgeable clergy friends, the seemingly counter-intuitive therapy of shooting can help veterans with PTSD by giving them an outlet for their lingering fear, anger and depression.

Unfortunately, in the case of Chris Kyle and Eddie Ray Routh, this intended act of assistance had the opposite effect. Routh has told local law enforcement and his family that he used the semi-automatic weapons the three men brought for sporting purposes to kill Kyle and Littlefield.  Then Routh escaped in Kyle’s pick-up truck.

From my spiritual perspective, the story worsened with Chris Kyle’s memorial service held at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, where 7,000 people gathered Feb. 11. I wasn’t put off by the military honor guard, nor by the many veterans and service members who came to pay their respects to a fallen comrade. I was distressed that among the funeral flowers there was a display of Kyle’s battle helmet, flak jacket and weapons, yet even that was consistent with his work.

What really sent me over the edge, however, were local news reports of a mother who brought her eight-year-old son, dressed in clothing of desert-style camouflage design, to the funeral. She said she brought him because he wants to be a Navy SEAL like Kyle when he grows up.

The words “appalled” and “nauseated” only begin to cover how her actions made me feel. I have no idea if any other parents did the same thing, but for a mother to bring her child to a public event in a manner that glorifies warfare strikes me as simply horrific. Not even the proud boast of Roman mothers to their legionnaire sons — “With your shield or on it” — can compare. The words of Jesus from the gospel of Matthew keep ringing in my ears: “… All who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matthew 26:53).

Thus I am facing this Lenten season of self-denial, prayer and repentance with profound, burning questions:

What will it take for us Americans to see that we perpetuate a murderous society? What will it take for us to repent of our terrible lust for violence? Where can we find the strength and courage to say, “No! Stop! No more guns! No more blood!”

Some readers may be offended by my reaction. Many Americans see Chris Kyle as a hero, and he was undoubtedly a man who loved his country enough to go to war for it. He believed that what he did to fight his country’s enemies was a noble, patriotic calling. He even believed that shooting, as a sport, had the power to help heal those still suffering the mental anguish of warfare. That belief was Chris Kyle’s fatal mistake, and something to be deeply mourned.

There are so many bloody trails that reach back from the murders of Chris Kyle and Chad Littlefield, back to the shooting death of a teen-age band member in Chicago just days after she performed at President Obama’s inauguration, back to that horrible day, Dec. 14, 2012, when another mentally ill young man took a cache of weapons and ended the lives of 20 children, six educators, his own mother, and himself. I feel as though my hands are drenched in blood because I haven’t done enough to stand against this epidemic of violence. I can endure this pain no longer, and I plan to devote my Lenten observance to contemplating how to respond to this evil.

It may seem strange that someone devoted to prayer and contemplation should be so moved to activism on this matter. It’s true that many mystics find their efforts at union with the Divine lead them away from the travails of human life. Yet many contemporary spiritual masters such as Thomas Merton, Richard Rohr, Helen Prejean and Joan Chittister teach that spirituality which connects us with God should also propel us toward greater love for our neighbors. As with Jesus, Peter, James and John on the Mount of Transfiguration, we cannot stay upon the illuminated peak. We must go back down into the valley.

This year for many of us, the valley of Lent bristles with weapons whose only purpose is to kill humans. Our task is to repent of our cultural belief that such weapons bring us security, and to find ways to rid ourselves of them as much as possible. We begin this journey with the prayer we Christians have spoken for two millennia:

Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.

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