Yesterday the world I encountered in my travels through the day seemed to be filled with grief, anxiety and fear.

Six men are dead and nine wounded: They were shot because they were Muslims. They were shot because they were in Quebec. They were shot because they happened to be inside the Centre culturel islamique de Québec in Sainte-Foy for prayer when a lone gunman burst in and opened fire.

This is not supposed to happen in Canada. We are a gentle peaceful land.

But today families grieve; a faith community is devastated and frightened. The country is in shock.

What do we do now? Where do we go from here? How do we move forward from this place of heartbreak and grief?

Some of us will feel called to reach out to our Muslim neighbours, perhaps visit the local mosque, place flowers on the stairs, write a message of condolence and solidarity. Others will join a march, share in making a human shield around a mosque, or start an education program to create better understanding of the Islamic faith. Some people will call upon parliament to bring back the gun registry abandoned by the previous government.

These are all commendable and hopeful steps. But none of them is the answer.

alexandre-bissonetteThere is no answer. There will always be bigotry, prejudice, terrorism, and violence. Hatred cannot be defeated by a protest march, gun control, or even better education. The alleged gunman in Quebec City was a a 27-year-old Laval University student in the faculty of social sciences and an enthusiastic chess player.

It is tempting, in the face of a senseless unexplainable act of terror, for those of us who were spared the bullet, to succumb to the inevitable fear that violence generates.

If such a vicious act can happen in the safe stable civilized sophisticated Quebec City suburban area of Sainte-Foy, nowhere is beyond danger.

Perhaps someone we know and love will be next. Perhaps our community will be a target. Where will this stop? Who will be the next victim?

The adrenaline rush of fear and anxiety is palpable.

But fear is not really what is going on here. What is really happening is that we are in pain. When things go terribly wrong, it hurts. Fear arises as we project our hurt into the future. If people in Quebec City can be so grievously wounded, perhaps I will be next and I am not sure I could bear that pain. Fear emerges from the desire to protect myself from pain.

What if, instead of allowing the pain to drive me into fear, I allow the pain to break my heart? What if I allow the pain to be there doing its work on my soul, breaking off the hard rough edges of my tired old heart and opening me to the softness and gentleness that are my true nature?

If, instead of rushing to fear, I sit with the pain, I may find gentleness and compassion are born. Instead of seeing alleged Quebec City gunman Alexandre Bissonnette as “that horrible person” as I heard him described by a commentator on the radio yesterday, perhaps I will be able to see him as the tragic, broken, lost child he almost certainly is. Perhaps, I will even be able to see beneath the surface of a bullish, arrogant, dishonest world leader, and catch a glimpse of the sad child in pain who is driven to acts of aggression by his deep insecurity and hurt.

Pain has the capacity to awaken me to the fact that I am not all that different from the gunman or the crazed lawmaker. When I act from fear and insecurity, I likely perpetuate the harshness and violence I seek to end. I may not use a gun, buy my tongue and my attitude will become instruments of violence continuing the endless cycle of harm in the world.

Harsh angry words, revenge, judgment, and contempt will never get us to the place we need to go.

The only way forward from terror is for me to choose to allow terrifying events to move me towards greater heart-opening.  The antidote to violence is not shouting, heckling, or shaking my fist. The only truly life-giving response is a gentle response.

The writers of Proverbs says,

A gentle answer turns away wrath. (Proverbs 15:1 NIV)

So let us go out and march. Let us lobby for strict legislation against hate crimes. Let us expand our horizons by learning about different cultures. Meet new people. Take risks. Step outside our comfort zone. Extend a hand to a person whose life differs from our own.

But, before all these good actions, let us find within ourselves that place of open-heartedness. Let us get in touch with the gentleness and compassion that are our true nature. Let us recognize that we too have violence, prejudice,  anger, and hatred in our hearts. Then, instead of responding from fear, let us act from that place of love which is neither fearful, anxious, nor judgmental but always open, spacious, and compassionate. This is the path to greater light and hope in the darkness and fear that afflict our land.