Dr. Greg Clapper
This book is written to help people cope with the mystery of tragedy, whether it be a tragedy in their own lives or a tragedy in the life of a friend. I share six spiritual resources that I know can make a difference in the aftermath of a tragedy. Some of these resources, like the concept of mystery itself that I address in the first chapter, are informed by my training as a theologian and my work as a professor. Others, like the chapters on tears and the presence of God, are more directly informed by my personal experience as a minister, a chaplain, and simply as a Christian.
All six chapters, though, are illustrated by reference to my work as a chaplain after the crash of United Airline Flight 232 in Sioux City, Iowa, on July 19, 1989. As a result of that crash 183 people survived and 113 died. My purpose is not to try to tell all of the important stories of the crash and rescue effort, but rather to show how six resources from the Christian tradition -- mystery, tears, humility, gentleness, hope, and the presence of God -- helped to draw people, including me, into new life after a real-life tragedy.
One of the truths that I came to appreciate during my ministry after the plane crash is that our personal histories are the lenses that bring the present into focus. Only in, with, and through our personal histories can we deal with the reality of tragedy. Because of this, in writing about tragedy I have spoken freely about my own personal history. Dispassionate, and impersonal approaches to this topic seem both irrelevant and inappropriate.
I have provided questions for reflection at the end of each chapter. These are not abstract or academic questions but questions designed to help the reader deal with tragedy in the context of his or her own spiritual life. You may find it profitable to write your responses to these questions. Writing your spiritual reflections and raising your own questions - sometimes called journaling - is a long-honored practice in the Christian tradition. Whether or not you respond in writing, though, you may find that one or more of the questions is simply worth living with for a while. Sometimes the questions we ask form us more than the answers we believe we are looking for. If our hearts are in the asking, God will meet us in the these questions and sustain us in this strange and powerful process of soul-formation called the Christian journey.