I have told this story often over the last seven years.
It was a Friday. I’d taken the day off from the Connecticut Conference, United Church of Christ, to drive to Burlington, Vermont, and pick up my son Brendan at the University of Vermont. I’d left early in the morning so that we could stop in Brattleboro and have a tasty and unhurried lunch.
As we approached the town near the Massachusetts line, my cell phone rang. It was one of my colleagues on the Conference staff. She told me that there’d been a shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. There weren’t many details, but…
“It sounds bad,” she said.
As the person responsible for communication, this was my job.
I took the next exit, which was the one I’d intended to use in Brattleboro, but rather than search for a restaurant with a distinctive, creative menu we pulled into the chain restaurant closest to the highway. Instead of a cheerful conversation we sat silent as I scanned news websites, Twitter, and Facebook for information. I’m sure the waitress thought I was the worst father she’d ever seen.
Hastily, I tapped this prayer into my phone and sent it to my colleague in the Hartford office. “Read this carefully,” I warned, “and edit it as needed. Then email it to our churches and leaders.”
This was the prayer:
Our voices rise as from Ramah. We cry out for our children. God, who will comfort us?
With stunned tears we watch and listen and wait as word of horrors comes to us. With frozen minds we ask how, once again, such terrible violence has erupted among us. With aching hearts we anticipate the grieving cries: Rachels upon Rachels, Isaacs upon Isaacs, weeping for their children.
The days will come when we can ask why and have some hope of answering the question, O God. We pray your guidance then, when we can labor to prevent these tears.
Until then, to our aching hearts, for our frozen minds, amidst our streaming tears, bring tender comfort and unshakable love.
Our hasty meal consumed, we resumed our southward drive, directed now toward the Conference office and not our home.
The next day I received a phone call from one of the pastors of First Church of Christ UCC in Glastonbury, where I was a member. “We need a song for a candlelight vigil on Sunday night,” she said. “Can you find something?”
I had to write something instead. The prayer gave me the place to start.
I sang “Courage in the Candle” for the first time that night. You’ll find photos and a recording of that original performance here. The video below comes from a worship service at a meeting of the Connecticut Conference. It features my dear friend and colleague the Rev. John Selders on the piano. At his suggestion, we melded “Courage in the Candle” with “God Has Work for Us to Do.”
I keep singing this song for fresh tragedies.
I wish I could stop.