Seven Year Sorrowful Anniversary

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 couldn’t.

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.

In the Light of Day

IMG_4187My first prayers this morning, God,
were made with a light heart;
well, lighter than the prayers that followed.
More screams, more shots, more deaths
I did not need to see to grieve.

Details slowly filtering in. Death count
rising. Victims unsurprised but scared.
“Eventually it was going to happen here.”
Dear God. Dear God. Dear God.

And then the sun shone through my window.

And I remembered:

Brightly colored winter coats glinting in the sunshine
as their wearers fled their school,
leaving classmates, teachers, friends
slain behind them.

And I remembered:

Sun blazing over lines of students
older, tears a-streaming, fleeing,
leaving classmates, teachers, friends
slain behind them.

And I saw:

Sun blazing over lines of students today
filing toward their buses home,
leaving classmates, teachers, friends
slain behind them.

The sun seared my eyes through eyelids closed
to stopper flowing tears.
“All who do evil hate the light,” said Jesus.
But in our times, they work their evil
in the light.

If this is what we do by day, O God,
then let each day be blanketed with clouds.

But no. We can not hide. We must not shade our eyes.
In blazing sun, exposing all
hypocrisy, pretense, and lies, I pray:
Change our hearts, O God.

Let us love our children,
let us love our neighbors,
let us love the stranger
more than we love power:
The power at a moment’s notice
to deprive a soul of life.

Let your clear light reveal our love,
and not, once more or ever,
the tragic consequences
of our fear.


Courage in the Candle

I’ve been asked (okay, by only one person) to post the lyrics to this song, so here they are. The song was written on Sunday, December 16, two days after a gunman slew his mother, six educators, and twenty first graders at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, before taking his own life. The recording comes from a prayer service held December 16th at First Church of Christ Congregational UCC in Glastonbury, CT.

Courage in the Candle
by Eric Anderson

Our voices rise up as from Ramah.
Oh God, from where will comfort come?
Rachel cries out for her children
Who will not be coming home.
We wait and hear only of horrors
And we ask how once again
This violence erupts among us
Leaving anguish, grief, and pain.

Into the shadows Bear a candle
A tiny spark Against the night
Into the sorrows Of an uncertain world
Raise the promise of your light.

Though the cause of evil prosper
Yet ‘tis love alone is strong
Though innocence is placed in danger
And power exercised for wrong
God is waiting in the shadows
Where human grief and sin shall cease
A holy light shines in the darkness
And heaven’s children find their peace.


I will not accept the darkness
As my predestined home of woe
I will not despair of loving
Although its losing grieves me so.
I will take courage in the candle
And hold its flame before the night
Where God is waiting in the shadows
Together, we will shine with heaven’s light.


This song copyright 2012 by Eric Anderson