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Local Voices: Bearing Light in the Darkness

A person of faith responds to the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy.

I came home from church on Sunday exhausted. The last couple days have been a roller coaster of emotions. As a mother I experienced the tragic shootings at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT like I would imagine that most people did. I had a strong feeling of empathy for those who had lost their loved ones, even as I realized that I couldn’t, and did not want to, imagine what they were going through.

As a pastor, it’s part of my job to help others to wrestle with some of these same feelings even while I continue to resolve my own. After a lot of prayer and reflection, I spoke with my congregation about Friday’s shooting during worship on Sunday.

While this may be surprising to many people who have had the unfortunate opportunity to hear some of the ‘famous’ Christian voices of the day, most religious traditions offer a depth of resources to begin the healing process we all need. That’s due, in part, to the fact that we’ve sadly been here before. The Bible, a source of wisdom for Christians, is filled with stories of people dealing with situations where God’s presence is very hard to discern. Take this verse from the Gospel of Matthew:

"A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more."

These words were used to describe the pain of the mothers who lost children when King Herod ordered boys under the age of 2 slaughtered; for he feared that little baby Jesus was a threat to his throne; or so the story goes. While there is some question about the historicity of this story, the words, themselves a quotation from the book of Jeremiah in the Hebrew Bible, had a sad resonance this week.

What I’ve grown to appreciate as I’ve reflected on these words is Rachel’s refusal to be comforted. Our temptation in times like these is to offer quick words of comfort; simple platitudes that try to make sense of the situation. While phrases like “I guess God needed more angels” and “God has a plan” are undoubtedly well-intentioned, they also paint a troubling portrait of God. I wonder if Rachel refuses to be comforted because we refuse to address the real source of her pain.

Despite appearances, the church isn’t celebrating Christmas yet. Like many of our neighbors, we get caught up in the rituals of endless shopping, festive singing (and eating), and Christmas tree decorating but technically Christmas is preceded by four weeks of waiting called Advent. It is during Advent that we recognize the darkness of the world. This darkness has been with us for a long time.

It is in the context of this darkness that the Christmas story finds meaning. While some pontificators of faith would like to suggest that the biggest problem in the world today is the absence of school prayer and the preference for the more inclusive ‘Happy Holidays” greetings, Christmas truly loses its meaning when Christians forget their true purpose - to bear light into the a world in need of some hope.

Bearing light can be difficult and it rarely plays out with easy answers in my experience. Our country will, hopefully, have a conversation about how to prevent a tragedy like this from happening again. I pray that all participants will open themselves to real dialogue about gun control, mental illness and our cultural obsession with violence; among other things. As we do so, I hope all will resist the urge to find the simple solutions so that we can feel and sleep better. May we also, like Rachel, refuse to be comforted.

On Sunday, I shared a story with my congregation about Mr. Rogers, yes, that Mr. Rogers of children’s television fame. He once shared a childhood fear of tragic situations and the advice of his mother. Mother Rogers told her son to look for the ‘helpers.’ God is difficult to discern in trying times just as it can be hard to find one’s way in the darkness. But we have also seen, in so many of these tragic moments, people of good will who step forward and act as God’s hands and feet.

Of course there is more to do but I pray that you each can see that flicker of candlelight ahead of you on the path. Even better, I hope you will be that light for others because the world can be a dark place sometimes.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Louise Marley December 17, 2012 at 04:53 PM
Thank you, Rev. Scriven, for these thoughtful words.
Edward A. December 18, 2012 at 09:07 AM
Ms. Scriven, Your blog entry's title and subtitle raised the hairs on the back of my neck. I am really wary of the predictable reaction that blames "godlessness" for tragedies like this. Instead, your post was gentle, sensible and thoughtful -- everything mainstream protestant Christianity in this country used to be. Sadly, this is no longer the case -- this brand of Christianity, what religious commentators used to call "mainline protestant," is dying. It has been replaced at one end by the non-religious, and at the other end by the so-called evangelicals. But I sympathize with your message. I really do. And it makes me long for the inclusive and forgiving God of my youth, but Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Mike Huckabee, Ted Haggard, Jimmy Swaggart, ad infinitum, have robbed us of our American heritage, and replaced it with some kind of strange religion that I don't recognize.
Ellen Schilling Remily December 18, 2012 at 03:18 PM
Thank you, Pastor Scriven, for a really touching and timely post. If we could all strive to be a "light in the darkness," the world would be a far better place.
Cara Scriven December 18, 2012 at 05:30 PM
Edward, I am glad that even though the title raised the hairs on the back of your neck, you were able to give me the benefit of the doubt and read my post. I too am sensitive to how the loudest Christian voices interpret tragedies like this. While I agree with you that the mainline churches are dying (new studies show that the evangelicals are too), I am not willing to allow us to go silently into the night. Many of us in the mainline denominations are fighting to stay alive and we will continue to do so because we believe we have something meaningful to offer our communities. I also believe that it is time that mainline Christians speak up so that Ted Haggard, Mike Huckabee, Pat Robertson, and all those who follow this brand of faith are not the only voices in the public sphere. I can't speak for other denominations but many United Methodists are finding their voices and are speaking out. Thank you again for your comment and I hope you have a wonderful holiday season and a Merry Christmas.
Edward A. December 18, 2012 at 05:59 PM
Ms. Scriven, Thanks for responding! I am curious to see the studies that show evangelical churches are losing adherents. If this is the case, it must be a very recent phenomenon. Source (for example): http://b27.cc.trincoll.edu/weblogs/AmericanReligionSurvey-ARIS/reports/ARIS_Report_2008.pdf Unfortunately, I think this is a symptom of the polarization of the US. The sensible middle is being squeezed by strident demagogues. It is probably a pendulum swing though. This wasn't the first religious revival in this country, and probably won't be the last. Thanks for your blog entry!
Cara Scriven December 18, 2012 at 06:36 PM
Edward, After a quick search, here are some articles and the latest Pew Research poll that talk a little bit about the decline. Please keep in mind that the decline in evangelicals is just beginning (or so it seems at least). The mainline church has been struggling for 50+ years so the decline is more clear. If I find anything else, I'll post it later. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/christine-wicker/the-great-evangelical-dec_b_105009.html http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/16/opinion/sunday/the-decline-of-evangelical-america.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 http://www.pewforum.org/unaffiliated/nones-on-the-rise.aspx I believe there are many factors to the overall decline in the church (evangelical or mainline), including cultural relevancy and as you pointed out the polarization of the country. I hope that there is indeed another religious revival--one that can bring meaning and hope and will truly make this world a better place. Thanks for the dialogue.

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