In recent weeks in this country we have witnessed both the miraculous and the horrific. In one fell swoop, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that same sex marriage would be legal in every state in America. This joyous victory came after decades of pain and struggle by many courageous and dedicated people.

The decision marks a giant leap for humanity and for human rights. On the other hand, the same Supreme Court gave the OK for states to continue to execute men and women by lethal injection with drugs that are shrouded in controversy and are questionable in nature. Tragically, our nation will continue, for now, to be ranked among the likes of China, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Iran as the top five death penalty countries in the world.


"A Mother's Story"


Another positive note, the Pope's encyclical declared that "dominion" over the earth means responsibility. We are called to action by Pope Francis, who challenges us all to care for our "common home" and its children, warning against our "throwaway society," referring both to plastic bottles as well as the marginalized and most vulnerable among us. Inordinate waste and its inequity have wreaked havoc on our earth and too many of its people. This is our great shame and it is both obscene and immoral. The Pope's message is hopeful in that it invites us to seek both redemption and to begin again in love. We can do better than this.

The senseless murders in Charleston stunned our nation and brought us to our knees, while the grace and courage of the families of those slain lifted our minds and hearts to the heavens in awe and praise. We were humbled in the face of such strength and love. Like the Amish, forgiveness was extended to the one who killed. How is this possible, we ask?

When I lost my daughter to violence over 10 years ago, I vowed to walk a path toward forgiveness and healing. This rugged, painful, decade-long journey has been filled with sadness, despair, revelation, joy, growth, humility and grace, lots of grace. I learned more about the judicial process, specifically the death penalty, than I ever wanted to know.

But it wasn't in seeking justice that I found peace. I found my way out of the darkness that had shrouded my life through compassion for the other. It wasn't until I recognized that the mother of my daughter's murderer was also a victim in this senseless tragedy that my path toward wholeness began to unfold.

I found that I was not alone; literally thousands of mothers lose children to murder every year. While I had been given the gift of telling my story, Leslie's story, as my way of making meaning and offering some small legacy of hope in her name, there are too many stories left untold, too many mothers struggling to find their way out of despair, searching for a way to lift up their child's life as a symbol of love and hope for all of humanity. The God of love and mercy doesn't leave us in despair. What is left in her name? As my friend Nancy Shaffer wrote in her poem for me: "The question, always the question, is what does love do now?"

Since moving to Chattanooga almost one year ago, I have been troubled by the tragic deaths of so many young people in our African-American communities. It has occurred to me that the mothers of the victims and the mothers of the offenders might know one another or even live in the same neighborhood. I long to reach out to them and offer a word of hope from one mother to another who has known the worst pain that life has to offer. I might be able to share some wisdom and be of help, or perhaps, just bear witness to their pain; accompany them on that treacherous journey through the shadows and the valleys on their way to the other side where hope resides.

But it has been the courage and compassion of the black community in Chattanooga and in Charleston that has illuminated that path toward hope for me and for us all. In the face of tragedy and horrific loss, these people have modeled dignity, grace, mercy and hope. I am moved by the depth of their faith and by the courage of their convictions to follow the principles of love that their faith teaches.

I am also deeply moved by the mothers of both sides in Chattanooga who are meeting to support one another and grieve their losses as they walk together through the valley of the shadow of death. While our Supreme Court justices give states the OK to continue executions, these mothers gather to mourn, heal and move beyond revenge to forgiveness and healing, not just for themselves, but all of us. These brave people are clearing a path of hope by pruning the dead branches of hate and revenge and illuminating our way towards a compassionate nation.

The question, always the question, is what does love do now?

Cathy Harrington has been serving as developmental minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Chattanooga since 2014.