Dear God —

I don’t usually address You this way.  I don’t mean it like I’m starting a letter.  I mean, Dear One.   You Who are tender and compassionate toward Your creatures.  You Who are precious Yourself.  You Who may have created us, humans, in Your image so you wouldn’t be alone — but like all children, we have grown beyond Your expectations and control.  I think that happened on Day 1 of our existence, exercising our free will to choose something You had told us not to.

I don’t usually address You this way.  You are far more abstract and metaphorical to me than personal, up-close, and known.  I respect Your mystery and know You best as Creator: When I lift my eyes to the starry sky and contemplate the depths of space, You are there.  When I tell my storytelling beads and consider the magnitude of Creation and the brevity of our lives against the backdrop of 13.7 billion years, You are there.  When I reach into my tradition and the words, the melodies, the images speak across thousands of years to illumine our today, You are there.

But I don’t usually lean on You as a Friend.

Dear God.  You who must be more troubled than any of us tonight.  Dear One.  Be with them.  The families.  20 families (as far as I have heard) whose children will never be coming home.  6 families whose beloveds will never be coming home.  One family whose son and mother are dead but not only that — their son and brother (nephew, cousin) is the perpetrator of this horror.  The families whose teachers will never return to their classroom.  An entire school bereft of its principal — apparently, so I have heard, gunned down while trying to tackle the gunman, and the school psychologist similarly.

Dear God, help them.  Shield them.  Comfort them.  Strengthen them.  You who are close to all who call — I am calling.  But not for me.  I’m ok, thank God.  My children are ok, and thank you God for that.  (This hit me as a mother for the first time.  I don’t know if it’s because I’ve now been a mother long enough; or because if that were my town I would have had two children in that school, my two youngest.  I don’t know.  But it did.)

But for me it’s just reflected grief, shared in some tiny measure with others whose life-long burden it has become.

I haven’t heard, but it must be that among all the families, for some the sixth light of Chanukah has now become forever the night that their children didn’t come home.

And for the rest, probably, there are already presents under the tree, or wherever they’re kept mid-December.

Dear God.  Be with us yet. And especially, be with them.

For the rest of us, our job is just to be there; and then to continue to have, as civilly as possible, the very difficult American discussion about what “a well-regulated militia” might mean in terms of “the right of the people to bear arms.”  A discussion much of the rest of the world looks on with astonishment.

And our job is also to fund more complete mental health care, and restore the grants which provided for staff training in schools on how to avert or lessen tragedy when it comes to call.  These teachers were practiced, and undoubtedly that saved lives.

Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet / Lest we forget!  Lest we forget!

That’s not where I thought I’d end.  Kipling’s poem is titled “Recessional” and I have that sense tonight of having turned a corner: the wave receding down the beach, the funeral over.  But that’s only me.  I make sense of things once I begin to understand the story, and though we don’t know the story of the shooter, there are other stories which are more important to remember and it’s been good to hear them.

Candle with text: "Prayers for Newtown, CT, Dec. 14, 2012"But I know that Newtown has turned no corners, except that people have found each other.  For them:  Light one candle. It’s what we ended the service with last night, and as always when strong emotions are engendered by circumstance, some of the words simply leapt out at me.  “Light one candle for those who are suffering / the pain we learned so long ago.” “What’s the commitment to those who have died / That we cry out they’ve not died in vain?”

This is why we will not fail. Our tradition teaches us to bring light.  Our history teaches us that, indeed, the light will not go out; I think after 3 millenia we can be fairly confident in that.  So that’s what we do: Bring hope of continuity even in the moment of radical discontinuity.

But our tradition also tells us: Do not seek to comfort your neighbor while his dead still lies before him (Pirkey Avot 4:18 or 4;23, depending on your translation).  So I do not say these things so that mourners will hear them.  For the mourners, our job is to be still and be present.

Don’t just do something, stand there.

Dear God, stand there with them.