Friday, December 14, 2012

Personally processing the incongruity of school shootings and Christmas

I heard the news of the shooting while I was at work. There is shock and horror but then the day goes on and there is work and conversation and laughter, and then suddenly later the reality sinks in and on my drive home the darkness of the night outside feels oppressive and I am angry, and sad, because the pointing fingers of all that is wrong in the world can point everywhere.

I've been thinking all day of the Christmas hymn that I really listened to for the first time this week, "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day". It's just like the world around me right now. The first verse is beautiful, like this season, with all the trappings of the Christmas, sweet and lovely.

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

But the next verse caught my ear and I listened to the whole song again, and then again, and looked up the words, and turns out it's written by the famous writer Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in the midst of his own personal tragedy as well as the nation around him locked in the Civil War. His beloved wife died and then, just before he wrote this, his son was crippled fighting in the war. These verses aren't very often in the sung version of the poem.

Then from each rank, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And I think how today it feels true again, those 20 hearthstones forlorn this Christmas, and we all weep at the loss, the terror, the evil.  It all seems so incongruous at first, this darkness in and around us, and this picture of peace on earth? And yet what has sunk deeply into me the past few years at Christmas is that the darkness is the very reason why Christmas happened, why it matters. It would just be a sweet story if it weren't for this, us, and...

Long lay the world in sin and error pining....

My advent reading yesterday was the wise men in Matthew, and today I remembered that the Christmas story unexpectedly has it's own mass killing of children, when Herod heard rumors of a prophesied king of the Jews born in Bethlehem and so had all the children under 2 slaughtered.

“A voice is heard in Ramah,
weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more.”

And it isn't just the darkness around, it is me, too, and the reality that has settled in this year of my own dark heart and I feel helpless in it, and I feel like I'm in the middle of the battle and I'm so tired, why I am still fighting with myself?  And so I resonate with Longfellow.
And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
"For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"

Advent is about the coming of Christ, but not merely that he has come. He has come, and so we remember, and rejoice. But He is also presently coming to us and in us, now, and that is why there is life even today, even in the midst of things like Newtown still happening. And, a thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, because He will come again, and all that is wrong will be set right.

And so, somehow, I wrestle and we grieve, but He has come so there is still hope, and that is why this Advent thing is holy, because the world is dark but.... He is coming.

So I sing with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in the midst of his grief:

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men."

O tidings of comfort and joy...

PS, please, someone do a decent updated version of this song. Please.


junglewife said...

Good thoughts. I shared your post with a fellow Wamena-dweller who has posted some thought-provoking comments on Facebook about the school shooting. Hope you don't mind :-)

Kacie said...

Of course that's ok. Thanks!