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.”
All I want for your birthday, Jesus, is your mother’s dream. To see the lowly raised up high, the proud confused, dispersed. To see the drunk with power deposed, the hungry without hunger any more.
All I want for your birthday, Jesus, is the prophet’s dream. A desert blooming beneath the sun, a rainbow soaring above the sand, the rocks a-blossom, the weeds a-fruit, the shaken knees no longer afraid.
All I want for your birthday, Jesus, is to believe in ancient dreams. To trust in the promise, trust in the promises, trust in assurances repeated, repeated to Mary, through Mary, to me, through me.
A poem/prayer based on Luke 1:46b-55 and Isaiah 35:1-10, the Revised Common Lectionary alternate reading and first reading for Year A, Third Sunday of Advent.
Written for healing following the fatal shootings at the Pearl Harbor Naval Yard on December 4, 2019. The recording is live from an interfaith vigil at Church of the Holy Cross UCC, Hilo, Hawai’i, on December 5.
When will we find healing When the night is long? When will we find healing In something more than song? Bring your caring To make our healing strong. Bring your caring: Make our healing strong.
When will we love mercy As we know we may? When will we love mercy In the light of day? Bring your healing To make our mercy strong. Bring your healing: Make our mercy strong.
When will our humility Overcome our pride? When will our humility Blossom deep inside? Bring your mercy And raise our souls to care. Bring your mercy… Bring your humility… Bring your healing…
Were I to descend to the riverside, John, fiery prophet, baptizing fiercely, were I to descend to seek holy forgiveness: What would you call me? A viper? A snake? What would you call me? A coward? A hoax? What would you call me? Irrelevant? Dull? What would you call me, religious authority…
And would I descend to the riverside, John, fiery prophet, baptizing fiercely, would I dare to seek holy forgiveness of you: Not knowing if you would bring shame to my name. Not knowing if you would despise my remorse. Not knowing if you would discount my devotion. Not knowing how deeply you see in my soul…
A poem/prayer based on Matthew 3:1-12, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel reading for Year A, Second Sunday of Advent.