"Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me . . ." Psalm 23:4
Nobody is ready for the death of a child. Or children. Nobody should have to be ready for the death of a child. Or children. Nobody knows what to do with the loss. Nobody knows what to say to other people about it. None of us have any answers. None of us have any wisdom.
The six beautiful children from Woodmore Elementary School . . . it's too much. It's too much and yet it's not everything. They aren't the only ones. There are more. There will be more. We become uncomfortably aware of a reality nobody wants to talk about - the Valley of the Shadow of Death isn't some far off place. It's here among us, anytime, any day. We pass through it sometimes without recognition. Other times? It's in our face. Loud. Brash. Unforgiving.
People have written about this before . . . even composed music about it . . . We have Mahler's Kindertotenlieder, with Ruckert's heart breaking words. We have 2 Samuel 18 and the death of Absalom. Several people have set David's grief to music. We have the dying words of Jesus and then the rending of the temple curtain in Matthew 27 - The Earth shook with the force of God's grief for God's own child.
Chattanooga, Tennessee is shaken, broken Earth right now. If you live here, you know. The whole community is aware of this unbelievable weight. If you work in one of our schools, you're in the thick of it. I know God loves those children and loves their families. I know God loves that bus driver. And the ground beneath our feet is appropriately unstable because of the force of the grief we're experiencing. Our law enforcement. The medical staff at the hospital where so many of these children have been treated. Broken.
Today was the beginning of Advent. Do you know what Advent is? Some of you probably do and others may not. Advent is a season of waiting that leads us to the celebration of Jesus' birth. Each week we will light a new candle (4 in all) and on Christmas Eve we will light the Christ candle. At that point, we will begin the celebration of Christmastide, which will carry us on toward Epiphany.
Our first candle during Advent represents Hope.
I experienced hope today as I saw teachers, police officers, clergy, and other community members gather at Woodmore Elementary School to walk the campus and pray. There were teachers laying their hands on doors, praying for the children who would walk in and out, praying for the teachers. There were prayers for the families of these children. Prayers for the officers tending to each funeral. Prayers for their warrior of a principle, who will attend every single memorial service to grieve with each family in turn. Prayers for my dear friends, who will walk through those front doors tomorrow morning ready to teach beautiful children - children they chose . . . children they care about.
Hope is hard to hang onto when you already know you're walking in the Valley of the Shadow of Death. But we know it's not impossible. Jesus, who knew what he was, lived a whole life walking in the Valley . . . and he was the human embodiment of Hope itself - Love itself - Peace itself - Joy itself.
In the past two weeks I've written two songs of mourning. One for my piano teacher and one for my entire community. I've shared them both below. I won't write anymore of these songs for a while. I'm tired. I think some of us soak up the grief going on around us and our own grief is amplified - writing is a good habit for folks like us, isn't it? Helps us figure out what to do with all those extra feelings.
I am going to spend this week praying for my friends, doing what I can to practically support them, and working on my first 2016 Advent song. By Friday, at the latest, I promise to have a song about Hope to share with all of you.
Tell the ones you love that you love them. Tell your friends how important they are. Fill the ears of the children you know with uplifting words and encouragement. Express gratitude to police officers and other rescue workers. Hug a teacher. We'll walk in the Valley together and we'll speak about the Hope we need until we can see it again.