Learn more about who we are by following our blog, written by our pastor, preacher, and chief evangelist. Engage in the everyday sacred as Abby writes about the deep and ordinary all at once.
If you are looking for faithful prayer, please read my colleague Mary Luti’s blog entitled, And Love is Everything: A Newtown Carol.
Poetry often expresses what prose cannot. I am grateful for her words:
Love is a sea of sorrow,
love is a broken wing;
love has no guns, no forces,
love cannot win a battle:
And love is everything.
If you are willing to be present to the empty, please continue to read.
Sandy Hook. December 14, 2012. Adam Lanza. 20 children between ages 6 and 7. Six adult staff. The deadliest mass shooting at a school in US history. The third deadliest mass shooting in US history.
On December 14, 2012, my sweet freckle faced boy was a first grader across the street at our public elementary school. Now my daughter is a first grader at the same school. Today she is probably doing any of the following things at school-- mastering her pencil grip, learning short vowel sounds, working on her addition and subtraction facts, listening to her teacher read from their latest chapter book, absorbing what it takes to be a positive member of a community, and daydreaming, because 1st graders still have permission to daydream.
I walked her to school this morning like normal. I watched the bounce of her ponytail and kissed her goodbye before she ran happily into school, eager to begin her day. I am deeply grateful that my daughter is seven and totally oblivious to this day’s history. Totally oblivious that some mom just like me walked their child just like her to school, confident that elementary school is a safe place.
The shooting prompted renewed debate about gun control. I was certain the death of twenty small children would finally tip the balance. Nothing changed. Our culture's obsession with guns persists. Most political leaders remain cowards, more willing to talk about the death of an aborted fetus than innocent kindergarteners and first graders. If we had paid as much attention to Sandy Hook as Benghazi, would that have helped?
Nothing has changed around gun laws, but I will tell you what has changed. Twenty families have one less stocking to hang this Christmas. Countless other families still wonder why their child was spared. First responders still wake in the middle of the night from ceaseless nightmares. A new school has replaced the site of the killing and a memorial garden has been planted over the rubble of the classrooms where 20 kindergartners and 1st graders were shot dead.
But has anything changed outside of Newtown, CT? I can still keep December 14th at arms length even if my heart aches for the families of the victims. I know viscerally what it is like to love a first grader, yet I am still confident that my first grader is safe. For me, little has changed. That is the shameful truth I must confess.
What are we to make of this senseless violence, knowing that their deaths didn’t at least prompt change? What should we do this day as faithful people? One thing we can do is lament.
The Biblical book, Lamentations, means how in Hebrew. To actively lament means to let out anger and grief, to cry out “Enough!” and ask “How God, how?” I learned in my pastoral education that lamenting is essential to the healing process. We were told to honor the lamentations of those we serve and that in doing so healing would eventually come. We were told that faithful lamentation makes our grief holy.
Today, as I returned home from walking my daughter to school, I decided that what I learned in seminary was a crock of shit. Lament isn’t sacred. Yes, it should be spoken and heard. Yes, I do believe God bears witness to the cries of those keening with grief. But I know that lament isn’t always followed by healing. I refuse to say the “comforting theology” I was trained to speak, that lament transforms grief into something holy. There is nothing holy or sacred about 20 small bloody bodies. Nothing. No lament can make it so.
My one offering on this horrid day--lament-- has come up empty. The lament I offer beside the lament of the mother who cannot get out of bed today, remembering the way her beloved child looked before she dropped her off at school, is feeble.
Empty. Futile. Feeble. Guns still proliferate. Our nation still bleeds. And twenty children are still gone.
How long O Lord, how long must we wait for guns to be banished from our nation? How long until the abominable violence stops? How long?
My seven year old and I decorated our home with nativity scenes from all over the world. As a child I loved to carefully set up the creche in my mother’s recently emptied hutch. I had just a way to place the angels and shepherds. I often attached Jesus’ widespread arms to Mary for it made sense to me that Mary would be holding her newborn babe. My Lydia is as attentive as I was, but her preoccupations are different.
To this day, I always place each nativity piece turned outward, last-supper-like, so that the onlooker can see each figure. Mary is always near Jesus and over her shoulder the others look. Lydia’s scene is different. Mary and Joseph are tightly huddled around Jesus. The other pieces encircle the new parents and babe, often their backs turned to the viewer. I have restrained myself this Advent; I haven’t rearranged Lydia’s presentation. They were hers to set up and she visits them daily.
I asked her about one scene, “You can barely see Jesus, he’s tucked inside so.” She responded with clarity and exasperation, “You want him out of the rain, don’t you?!”
Those who heard the angels’ choir and followed a star were fully immersed in the scene before them. They beheld a perfectly normal infant who promised to change everything. He was born, as Mary tells us in her revolutionary song, to turn the world upside down. The child in the manger will show his strength by scattering the bluffing braggarts. He will knock tyrants off their high horses and pull victims out of the mud. He will invite the starving poor to a banquet and leave the callous rich out in the cold (Luke 1, Eugene Peterson’s translation). The shepherds and visitors from the east came to see the child of Mary’s song. They did not come so they could be remembered years later as small wooden and clay figures. They did not come to establish a cozy quaint holiday. They came to behold. Lydia seems to know this. Her figures all look at Jesus, gathered around, urgently waiting for what would happen next.
This Advent season, I am looking in with Lydia, and with the shepherds, angels, and wise men. My neck is stretched, my feet are arched, so I too might catch a glimpse of the child who will change the world. I am watching intently even though outside the manger the world spins out of control: hate has become ordinary public discourse, threats are effective communication. I keep my eyes steady in hope that once again the world will be turned upside down, that once again the bluffing braggarts will be scattered, the tyrants knocked down from seats of power, and the callous rich left out in the cold.
Perhaps I’m looking in because I can’t bear to look out. Or maybe I’m looking in because I hope. Some might call my hope naive, but this is the same hope that has sustained all the saints I revere--Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King, Jane Addams, Cesar Chavez. They persevered through the Wilderness, their eyes set on the Promised Land, leading America into God’s imagination. I choose to hope like they did. And I join an earnest seven year old who knows--intuitively and intimately--that something powerful happened in a manger 2,000 years ago, something worthy of hope.
Rev. Abigail A Henrich (ehm!) is an ordained minister who earned her stripes at Princeton Theological Seminary and Colgate University. That said, Abby is really a mother-pastor-spouse who lives in a kinetic state of chaos as she moves from her many vocations: folding laundry, preaching, returning phone calls, sorting lunch boxes, answering e-mails, and occasionally thinking deep thoughts in the shower. Unabashedly she is a progressive Christian who believes some shaking up has got to happen in the church.