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Tragedies turn the world to faith and prayer

We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed. 2 Corinthians 4:8

SALT LAKE CITY — Americans today might be having some of those same thoughts and feelings the apostle Paul described in his epistle to the Corinthians nearly 2,000 years ago.

From Newtown, Conn., to Boston, to West, Texas, inexplicable tragedies have shattered innocent lives and damaged the nation's collective psyche.

No one can really explain why a gunman opens fire in an elementary school or why someone plants bombs at the finish line of a marathon. All anyone can do is try to pick up the pieces and go on.

It's during these times that people look to some of the cornerstones of society — faith, family and friends — for solace. It becomes OK to talk about prayer and spirituality and dependence on others.

Bill Richard's 8-year-old son Martin died in one of the explosions at the Boston Marathon, and his wife and daughter were injured as they waited for Richard to finish the race.

"We thank our family and friends, those we know and those we have never met, for their thoughts and prayers," Richard said in a statement. "I ask that you continue to pray for my family as we remember Martin.

Politicians and news anchors who might not ordinarily bring faith into their rhetoric or broadcasts ask people to pray for victims and their families when national tragedies occur. NBC News, as well as others, carried live coverage of an interfaith service at Boston's Cathedral of the Holy Cross on Thursday.

Social media is replete with uplifting messages. "Pray for Boston" images and videos flooded Instagram and Vine immediately after Monday's deadly bombing. Candlelight vigils emerged as somber flash mobs to heal and bring a community together.

"People's hearts turn to God. People's hearts turn to family and close friends that mean a lot to them. That is how people comfort themselves. It truly is," said Bryant Jenks, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Utah County.

In speeches in Newtown last December and Boston on Thursday, President Barack Obama quoted New Testament verses to console distraught families and reassure a grieving nation.

"Scripture tells us to 'run with endurance the race that is set before us,'" he said at the interfaith service Thursday. "As we do, may God hold close those who’ve been taken from us too soon. May he comfort their families. And may he continue to watch over these United States of America."

Lucinda Dillon listened to Obama's speech on her car radio. His words moved her to do something she has never done before: send a tweet to the president.

@barackobama Just heard u speak at the healing service. When u said "Bet on it," I lost it. U r my JFK. Thnx 4 inspiration/cheerleading/grace

"I don't know who Obama's god is," she said. "But I know what he said resonated with a lot of people."

The president also spoke of the resilience of the human spirit. "And this time next year, on the third Monday in April, the world will return to this great American city to run harder than ever, and to cheer even louder, for the 118th Boston Marathon. Bet on it."

"We have this big suffering and we have these little pockets of suffering, and we need someone to lift us out of it," said Dillon, a Salt Lake yoga teacher and former news reporter. "We need our political leaders and our religious leaders to be strong enough to be cheerleaders for us, to inspire us, to gather us."

Longtime community advocate Pamela Atkinson has watched the recent tragedies unfold with a heavy heart. She, too, listened to Obama's speech Thursday.

"I think that service and the sharing of one's faith and the sharing of one's shock and sadness in a spiritual way is a great help to many people," she said.

But beyond that, she said, is honoring the people who were killed by doing a good deed for someone.

Starting with Brady Howell, a Utah State University graduate who died at the Pentagon on 9/11, Atkinson often delivers food or clothing to a needy person in the name of a victim of a tragedy. Sometimes she lets the recipient of the donation know what she's doing. She'll do the same thing for those who died or were hurt in Boston.

"It seems to me be so right to honor that person by doing something for somebody else," Atkinson said.

"It's very, very difficult to understand how somebody could be evil enough to want to kill and maim people. That's unconscionable. The only way to deal with it is to vow to help make this world a better a place."


Twitter: dennisromboy