I was asked to speak at a community remembrance of the Sandy Hook School shooting here in Duluth. This is what I shared:
On December 14, 2012 in Newtown, Connecticut, a troubled twenty-year-old young man with easy access to guns chose to take those guns into Sandy Hook Elementary School. Twenty children and six staff members were killed. A troubled youth, guns – a story repeated again just yesterday, a story repeated too often.
We gather today to remember Sandy Hook and the people affected. We gather to remember not just with our heads and our voices, but to remember deeply, to remember with our hearts, to remember with our souls.
We share the grief of the families who lost children and loved ones. We share the grief of a community. We share the grief of all too many who have, in the days since this shooting, lost friends, neighbors, co-workers, children, loved ones to gun violence. These events mark our souls. They sear our consciences. They leave a particularly deep impression because there is something inside of us that is convinced we can do better as a society with guns and violence. And we should let these feelings do their proper work. Here is what I mean, in two quotes.
Wendy Lesser, The New American Spirituality, 180: An open heart feels everything – including anger, grief, and pain – and absorbs it into a bigger and wiser experience of reality…. We may think that by closing the heart we’ll protect ourselves from feeling the pain of the world, but instead, we isolate ourselves even more from joy…. The opposite of happiness is a fearful, closed heart. Happiness is ours when we go through our anger, fear, and pain, all the way to our sadness, and then slowly let sadness develop into tenderness.
Nicholas Wolterstorff, Lament for a Son, 92: If sympathy for the world’s wounds is not enlarged by our anguish, if love for those around us is not expanded, if gratitude for what is good does not flame up, if insight is not deepened, if commitment to what is important is not strengthened, if aching for a new day is not intensified, if hope is weakened and faith diminished, if from the experience of death comes nothing good, then death has won. Then death, be proud.
My faith is a faith that trusts that while death marks us, wounds us, scars us, while we feel its sting and we grieve its presence, it does not get the last word. Healing, community, hope, love – these overcome, these can rise from the grave dug in our world by events like the Sandy Hook shooting and other incidences of gun violence.
As the bells ring, as the names are read, as we feel our grief, as we touch our wounded hearts, our scarred souls:
o May our sadness transform into tenderness
o May our sympathies be enlarged
o May our love be expanded
o May our gratitude for what is good flame up
o May our insight be deepened
o May our commitment to what is important be strengthened
o May our aching for a new day be intensified
o May our faith, hope and love remain lively
Then death, though it often speaks loudly, then death, though we feel its sting intensely, then death, particularly death at the barrel of a gun, will not have the final word.