Undesired Lament Meets Communal Adoration
This article was written by Ariana Diaz.
Leah Reynolds was a former student at North Park University. She was known in many different friend groups. She also was a part of one of the last “Chicago Intensive” cohorts that North Park offered before changing into Catalyst. Even though Leah was no longer a registered student at our institution, she lived across from campus, allowing for continuous involvement. The student body received an email about her passing on Tuesday, October 23, 2018. The next day at chapel, counseling services greeted the community, reminding the attendees that there are services available to students through difficult and adverse times. There was not a single time that Leah’s name was explicitly spoken. This means that only those who either knew Leah or took the time to read the email titled ‘Community Loss’ knew the purpose for counseling services making an appearance in Chapel. There was no prayer, or moment of silence, or recognition of the loss of life.
The silence spoke for itself. I do understand that Leah was no longer a student at North Park. However, I personally believe that this was an improper approach to allowing students to mourn, and I was not the only one who felt that need not being met. Student leaders from Catalyst, Queers & Allies and Student Government Association began to brainstorm what a space would look like that allowed our campus to mourn the death of Leah Reynolds. With no question, the deepest desire of these individuals was to allow for space of grieving as a community but also celebrating the life that Leah lived. Input from Leah’s closest friends was sought out to plan the candlelight vigil, hoping to meet the needs of our student body and specifically those who knew her best.
The Sunday before the vigil happened, security guard, Jemel Roberson was murdered by police after successfully apprehending a gunman who opened fire at the nightclub he worked for. The community, larger than North Park, was also lamenting and grieving an unnecessary death.
On November 14, 2018, at 4:15pm, the North Park University community was made aware of the passing of student Shannon Suty. This email was sent one hour and forty-five minutes before the vigil was set to begin.
As a western culture, an unhealthy habit is often adopted where it is necessary to suppress emotions in order to put forth one’s best work and get the job done. I was not the only person attempting to compartmentalize the inconceivable on the evening of the vigil.
The candlelight vigil began at 6:00pm, gathering around warm drinks and lit candles. The student leaders attempted to spread the word about this event as much as possible, but there is always a small fear that no one will show. However, large groups of people began to arrive quickly. People would recognize each other and hug one another because, in times like this, words do not do justice. There was a rough outline of what the vigil would look like, but the goal was to leave silence. Silence is open for personal interpretation. This was a time for grievance, a time to look around to see those who loved Leah, and a time to allow processing of emotions when considering the multiple deaths within our community. The hearts of who loved Leah could be felt and heard through the way others spoke of her. Specifically, a few of Leah’s closest friends spoke, one sharing a piece that he wrote for Leah, while two others spoke of Leah’s deep and genuine care for others. Many tears were shed but there was a collective understanding that the tears were welcomed and that tears are crucial to the grieving process.
“Jesus wept.” This is found in John 11 verse 35 after Jesus receives the news that Lazarus had died. This is the exact thing that God calls us to do – he calls us to grieve. Grieving can be seen in many different ways, but there is always significance of grieving as a community. Suffering is inevitable, and God calls his children to suffer well. However, this is not meant to be done alone.
This university claims to have the desire of creating and fostering authentic relationships, which in turn, allows for a deeper discipling in the community. Growth is much more likely to be apparent during deep agony and has the ability to create genuine community. North Park missed a crucial moment to be in the distress and discomfort when mourning the loss of Leah Reynolds.
The deepest yearning of my heart is that North Park as an institution would choose to reflect the nature of Jesus. This is the Jesus that sat with others while they wept, who allowed himself to feel the emotions of a tragic loss, and who chose to not lament alone but rather with a community.