Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine – Grant them eternal rest, O Lord
Kyrie eleison – Lord have mercy
I woke up with a feeling of dread knowing that names would be in the news; personalizing the horror of yesterday, the new day bringing the faces of the massacred in Newtown to my screens. I’ve been listening to Verdi and Mozart, Requiems written for the funeral mass; my own grasping attempt to enter into the mourning of those experiencing the deepest fathoms of grief; the soul crushing, life altering, numbing kind of grief that becomes a companion when the one we love most, a child, is lost. The sequence of the liturgy (in italics throughout) begins in tragedy with prayers for mercy and care: it ends gratefully with the hope of Heaven rising triumphantly from death and despair. In Verdi’s Requiem, the Dies Irae movements play for almost half of the mass; in life as in this piece of music, deliverance seems a long way off…
Dies Irae – Day of Wrath
The imagination is powerful in its creative facility to transport the mind and spirit. The Devil, God too it should be noted, is literally in the details. A young man, a member of my family, the human one, woke up, swung his feet to the floor, dressed in black, and prepared for the unthinkable. He started his day killing his mother by shooting her in the face. Then with malice and forethought drove to a school where she was a teacher, entered the building, and executed the adults he encountered, Mayhem loosed with the first shot. His steps carried him on a path conceived first in his mind. Reloading, perhaps calmly, his weapons; he walked next into classrooms and brutally extinguished the lives of 5 and 6 year-olds in a cacophony of screaming fear and the anguish of pain. Finally — more tragedy — mercifully, taking his own life, before others were harmed.
So where was God in all of this? This headlining question stirred in me these words here on the page: it appeared on CNN.com early this morning for a time. The question supposes that The Old Gray Man is stationed somewhere out near Alpha Centauri absently observing the events on this orb with detachment; missing in action.
Sanctus – Holy
Agnus Dei – Lamb of God
Jesus it turns out was in Janet Vollmer’s class room. After securing the safety of her students, she — Jesus — then opened a book, and read to them to give them comfort and to distract them from the terror unfolding outside her door.
Jesus, in uniform (a nurse, an EMT, a police officer, or fireman), rushed to the scene, the sirens signaling to Lanza that his time was up and that the killing would now end: not one more innocent life will be taken. Jesus, a first responder, provided care to the wounded, perhaps holding a dying child as life spilled out. Jesus walked up to a sobbing parent with a gruesome picture of a child felled to the classroom carpet, with fatal wounds issued in warlike fashion, and asked: “Can you identify this child, is this your son?” Jesus in this very moment is holding his beloved children, loving and weeping with the fathers, the mothers, the brothers and sisters, and the friends of the slain; wiping away buckets of tears, consoling, and comforting.
Don’t miss the incarnation. I tried to write in some of the details in my mind to make it personal, rather than just another something awful on the news that happened somewhere else. God and the Devil, Heaven and Hell, Love and Hate are not mere conceptual abstractions. If you have need to find them, consult the nearest mirror. I suggest starting by seeking out and celebrating the Divine in others while searching the interior crevices of our own hearts for the resident Darkness.
Libera Me In Paradisum – Deliver Me
The New Heaven and the New Earth
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
(Revelation 21:1-4 ESV)
Perhaps we, who are One Body, can play a role in making Newtown, and our town, new. We have set before us each day, “life and good, death and evil, blessing and curse.” The Kingdom of God is not abstract and far away, it is right here, now.
I remember a sermon given at Willow Creek years ago shortly after Jeffrey Dahmer committed his atrocities. The question was how does one become a man capable of such acts? The answer, in many cases, is one degree at a time over a long period. Yes, along with our deep sadness, we should be outraged, angry, and righteously indignant. In the midst of that, maybe there is a sad, desperately lonely person sitting off in a corner; someone who’s been mistreated or marginalized in some way at the school we go to or where we work, that we can pull along side of, and try to understand their story, love them in some tangible and personal way, thereby arresting and reversing the ticking off of another degree. Catch someone falling is the idea.
It’s doubtful that more guards with guns, higher walls, and razor wire featured fences will protect and secure our schools from the madness of a determined personal Evil. Love, in the words, touch and care of another human being, is the only antidote to the sometimes confounding senselessness of our days. Choose life and love someone.