At St. Philip’s, special prayers will be offered at services on Sunday, December 16, and candles will be placed on the altar commemorating the children and adults who were victims of the school shooting on Friday, December 14.
Plans are in the works for a community conversation on Sunday, December 23, at 10:15 a.m.
Below are posted my thoughts on the tragedy for your reflection. Prayer is always a valid response: pray for those affected first-hand, for all of us, for the world.
A REFLECTION ON THE KILLINGS IN NEWTOWN, CT
Friday, 14 December 2012
I taught my first Confirmation Class for adolescents when I was a seminarian. I had the good fortune to have the rector’s son in the class. He quickly learned that I liked to offer the class opportunities to ask questions. Andy liked me and took it upon himself to make sure there would always be at least one question, sometimes prefaced with, “I asked my Dad this question. I thought I’d see what you say … .” Inevitably, Andy raised this question: “If God is good and powerful, how come He lets all the bad things happen in the world?”
I thought of Andy and his question as I watched the news of the unspeakable tragedy at the Sandy Hook School in Newtown, CT. It feels surreal to write that twenty innocent children were slaughtered in what everyone thought to be a safe place by a mentally deranged young man. As President Obama later said, “Our hearts are broken.” We want to know why this happened—as if a clean clinical diagnosis would somehow make us feel better; as if knowledge would help us make sense of this horror; as if an explanation would bring us peace.
Many of us turn to prayer for wisdom and guidance in times of crisis, but in such times prayer can be difficult and elusive. When I feel spiritually stuck, I look for printed prayers to “prime the pump”. This evening, a prayer by my friend, the Rev. Vienna Cobb Anderson, which I have adapted for the occasion, illumined the way:
Too soon, they are gone.
Why couldn’t it have been someone else, someone whose dreams are spent, whose days are numbered?
Why these children of Newtown, CT.?
Why these young ones, so full of promise?
What then is left?
Trust in the goodness and mercy of God.
Trust in Christ’s resurrection from the dead.
Trust in the power of God’s Holy Spirit
to give us wholeness when we are brokenhearted,
to give us peace when there is none,
to give us life in the face of death.
In the midst of this chaos and void
grant us your love, O God.
Fulfill your promise of old:
heal our pain,
comfort our sorrow,
restore our faith,
that we may live and minister
to the suffering and those
who do not yet know how to trust you;
in Christ’s name we pray. Amen[i].
For me, prayer is often difficult because I am so intent on telling God what I need or want, that I forget that God already knows what I need or want, and that I need to quiet my body and my mind long enough to listen to God who comes, or rather is already quietly present through it all.
At first, I struggled with what I perceived to be cognitive dissonance between the day’s events, and the fact that we are close to celebrating the Feast of the Incarnation, to rejoicing in Jesus Christ’s birth. In prayer, the dissonance began to fade as I was reminded that God knows full well the pain of losing a child, his beloved son. Our creedal belief about Jesus left the realm of a theological construct, and came to life. The fourth verse of the Christmas Carol, Once in Royal David’s City, tells us just how real and relevant the incarnation is at a time like this:
For he (Jesus) is our life-long pattern; daily, when on earth he grew,
he was tempted, scorned, rejected, tears and smiles like us he knew.
Thus he feels for all our sadness, and he shares in all our gladness[ii].
I hear good news, great news—God’s empathetic love. In my head, I hear the tune written by my friend Calvin Hampton, St. Helena[iii], and these comforting words: “There is no place where earth’s sorrows are more felt than up in heaven …”
I do not know how I answered Andy’s question back then. In the face of today’s horrific massacre, there are no good or satisfying answers. The only way I know how to cope with this evil act, to get through, and to take the smallest steps forward is to trust in God. The words to another familiar hymn open the way for yet more prayer tonight.
O God, our help in ages past, our hope for year to come,
our shelter from the stormy blast and our eternal home[iv].
O God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come,
be thou our guide while life shall last, and our eternal home[v].
As I think about all that is happening in the aftermath of the shootings, I turn to this Compline prayer, which captures so much of what I want to lift up to God at this moment:
Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen[vi].
—The Rev. Canon John E. Kitagawa, D. Min.
[i] Vienna Cobb Anderson, Prayers of our Hearts in Word and Action (New York, Crossword Publishing Co.), 1991, 86-87.
[ii] The Hymnal, #102, verse 4.
[iii] The Hymnal, #469, verse 2.
[iv] The Hymnal, #680, verse 1.
[v] The Hymnal, #680, verse 6.
[vi] The Book of Common Prayer, 134.