On the Newtown Killings
A young man with his school years not that far behind him took his mother’s assault rifle—killed her and then broke into the local elementary school and slaughtered 26 human beings, including himself—twenty of them little children and the rest their teachers and helpers.
We watch the news with a mixture of overwhelming sadness, revulsion and hope that the next story will make sense of something that has a hard core of darkness that can never be wholly explained.
There are legitimate questions that will be raised—should it be so easy to obtain military style weapons—are we doing all we can for those who suffer from diseases of the brain—can the security of our schools and public places be improved? Perhaps if we are really courageous we will ask if our children are really as happy as we pretend they are. All this is as it should be. Though, those who engage in these debates will have a challenge to grant the victims and their families their due dignity and not reduce them to illustrations in some polemical exchange.
This is a very horrible event. It is a lot for one community to suffer. That the local funeral services are overwhelmed is a poignant marker of the magnitude of the suffering. And this suffering full as it is, is but a thimbleful of the suffering of the world—the number 20 only a small portion of the number of children murdered every day—sometimes by deranged individuals and sometimes by deranged states. Each one of these deaths is both a cosmic, world-shattering event, in and of itself and at the same time a cipher in an unimaginably large number.
How are we to face this darkness? Certainly, human effort is required. New thinking and new effort is needed by individuals, communities and authorities. But the recognition that such efforts are needed is the very thing that threatens to push us over the precipice of despair—for we have been trying—men and women have been trying for a very long time to roll back the darkness and still it threatens to overwhelm us. The story of the slaughter of the innocents is a very old story. (The feast of the Holy Innocents is December 28, one of the 12 days of Christmas during which we remember both that the light has come and the darkness is real.)
To look the darkness full in the face as at a time like this we are forced to do—brings us very quickly to the place where the human heart cries out for help. Even in a world that has forgotten the name of God—an inarticulate prayer goes up whose only possible translation is, “Oh, God help us.” The human heart at its most honest and realistic knows that there is no hope save that God is our helper.
We live in a time when many have been taught to suppress that cry and that very natural prayer of the human heart. We live in a time when many of our friends are taught that to be brave means to accept being alone in the dark.
It falls to us who know the name of God and know that He has come among us at great cost to take our darkness and death upon Himself and give us in exchange His light and life, and who know that as St. John saith, “The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness overcomes it not,” to say to those who struggle to keep the secret prayer of their heart from escaping to let their cry go free to Him who is our helper, defender and friend. It falls to us to say that we cannot roll back the darkness on our own but that with God all things are possible.
The Rev. Leander S. Harding, Ph.D. III Advent, 2012.
On the Newtown Killings