It is the only word I can think of that fits how I have felt for 24 hours. To keep going. To stay strong. To not be overcome by emotion – whether it is sadness or anger or something else. Don’t get me wrong – occasional moments I’ve lost control and found myself in tears. Seeing the pictures of families being told. The young mother on her cell phone in particular. The President unable to keep himself together as he addressed the country. Monsignor Weiss in Newtown telling how he was with the families and the care he and others provided. He seemed so strong for them. Then he wasn’t. None of us are. Fortitude. It sounds great, but it feels empty. Fortitude evades us. None of us can ever be that strong, especially now.
I just about lost it singing along with our kids at church a few hours ago. They were practicing for the pageant tomorrow morning. I was sitting in the back pew listening. The words to “Away in a manger” almost did me in. But I swallowed it. Just as many children that died yesterday stood on the chancel steps before me, two of them my own, singing about Christ’s coming into the depths of human experience and the evil that surrounds us. A sermon I needed to hear. “Stay near me Lord Jesus,” they sang. A prayer I needed too. I wiped my eyes.
“Stay near us all,” I keep praying.
“Stay near us,” when pain seems so present and all that is good in this world seems so distant. “Stay near us” needs to be our prayer right now. For ourselves. For a community so nearby in lament. For those families. For those who remain. For our own kids. For our community. For our nation. For our world. But our fortitude cannot hold it all together. That is the illusion. We cling to the idea that if we were strong enough we could handle anything, prevent everything. If we were strong enough, we believe we could shelter all from pain, or at the very least those close to us. But we can’t. It is feeble. It is horrible. We just aren’t strong enough.
But the kids sing. The absent who cannot sing among us again. Those voices cry out. I almost hear their voices amidst the horror of yesterday pleading, “Stay near me.” Those innocent voices who still sing, proclaim a different message than our own strength to overcome. They sing of the child, the vulnerable child who entered this world only to be brutally killed himself. I am reminded of the innocents who died, Jesus’ contemporaries, slaughtered among those who waited for his coming. The people who sat in deep darkness longing for light. Not much has changed. We still wait in darkness. This world is aching. We still need a savior. We all need a savior.
He is coming. Maybe not in the way we expect. Maybe this year he doesn’t come with joy and carols and packages accumulating under our tree. But the message will be proclaimed. Christ’s coming as the light that scatters the darkness will be announced boldly by our children tomorrow, “Arise shine, your light has come.” It will ring out by many children across this land, to we who are weak, mourning and in tears, where light seems so far away and elusive. To those families for whom grief cannot be adequately described or understood. To those who care for them. To all who wait and watch, longing for some good news in the darkness.
“Dear God stay near us. For we cannot bear to go on without you.”
I hope to see you tomorrow morning as the children lead us. For those who cannot be with us, know that our prayers unite us across the distance. May our constant prayers connect with those in Sandy Hook, and all who are hurting. And waiting.
Come Lord Jesus.
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear.” (Psalm 46:1-2a)
Here is a way to help: