God and Guns
The work of justice will be peace;
the effect of justice, calm and security forever.
My people will live in peaceful country,
in secure dwellings and quiet resting places.
—Isaiah 32:17-18, New American Bible, Revised Edition
The first transcendent experience I had was with a gun in my hand.
I was eight years old, maybe nine. I was standing just outside my back door, looking out across the yard to the edge woods beyond. There was a scrub oak maybe forty feet before me with a horizontal branch six feet off the ground. From this branch, my dad had hung three pink water balloons. My job was to put my new skills to the test and hit those water balloons with the metallic pellet that would be launched from my BB gun.
Just as he’d instructed, I steadied the gun against my shoulder, closed my weaker eye, focused with my stronger one, exhaled, and pulled the trigger.
And this was when it got weird. Or maybe wonderful. I’ve never quite figured out which.
Impossibly, I saw the bullet hit the first balloon. I saw the pink plastic peel away like a candy wrapper. And then, for a dense, rippling moment, I saw the water hang in the air: a silver orb, whole and unbroken and shimmering in the light coming through the oak leaves.
Then it fell. And I drew breath. And it was over.
If I’d had a choice, I would not have picked this moment for an experience of that which is beyond our human understanding; that which filled me with an ineffable, overwhelming sense of wonder and awe. And yet, this was the moment I was given. And since then, I have known deep in my spirit that I am held by the Mystery; part of the Mystery and witness to it; an agent of stardust whose perception of the world might not be all that there is to see.
I do not know what it is about ownership of guns, and easy access to them, that fills some people with a sense of security, an abiding peace in one’s mind and quiet confidence of the spirit. But I know that feeling. I choose to have faith: even though language seems to be failing us as we try and reach mutuality around the need for sensible gun laws, the ineffable — that which is too great to be expressed in words — will yet hold sway.
You whose in-breath is pain and scarcity and fear, whose out-breath is kindness and justice and understanding, when we aim for dialogue, when we aim for justice, when we aim for peace, let us keep your face in our sight.