Archive | December 2012

Twenty Prayers after Newtown

December 15, 2012

As I prayed today for the families of those 20 children killed in Newtown, I found my prayers felt a little too vague, even as I prayed for peace and strength and courage for “all of them.”  So I decided to think about and try to imagine some possible last moments those children may have had with their families on the morning of December 14…last moments that will be forever etched in the hearts of minds of those left behind.  And so I prayed:

a prayer for the mother who lovingly packed her little boy’s lunch and kissed him good-bye as he hopped on the bus

a prayer for the father who walked his daughter to the bus stop and waved with a warm smile as she drove away

a prayer for the older sister who teased her younger brother and scoffed at his fears of not doing well on his vocabulary test

a prayer for the father who spoke gruffly to his son because he was day-dreaming instead of eating his breakfast

a prayer for the older brother who gave his little sis a high five as she grabbed her backpack and raced out the door

a prayer for the mother who reminded her son to be very, very careful crossing the street and not ever to talk to a stranger

a prayer for the grandmother who texted her grandson as she did every morning to say, “hope u have a really nice day”

a prayer for the mother who resented having to get up so early and couldn’t wait for her daughter to go out the door so she could go back to her warm covers

a prayer for the father who teasingly pulled his daughter’s braids and told her “how pretty you look today”

a prayer for the little brother who watched his big sister pack up her books and wondered when he would ever be lucky enough to go to school

a prayer for the mother and father who stood together at the window and beamed their pride and love as their daughter waved from the front yard

a prayer for the mother who was worried about her son’s cough—should she let him go to school or not…?

a prayer for the father who said to his son who didn’t much like his breakfast, “When are you going to grow up and stop whining about everything?”

a prayer for the mother who hugged her child and told her she couldn’t wait to see her after school

a prayer for the older brother who told his little sister that he thought she looked pretty silly in that bright orange hat

a prayer for the grandfather who couldn’t leave his chair but called out to his granddaughter a hearty “good-bye and don’t forget to be good”

a prayer for the mother and father who scowled at each other across their cups of coffee and failed to see their daughter’s un-ease with their angry silence

a prayer for the baby who giggled with glee as his big brother tickled his stomach on his way out the door

a prayer for the father who kidded with his son and told him not to tease the girls too much

a prayer for the father and mother who each gave their daughter a big bear hug and told her how much they loved her

And then I prayed for all of us, that we might have greater patience, greater love, and a greater awareness of the treasure of each moment we have with those we love.

Advent Darkness and Light


“The Newborn”

Georges de la Tour (1593-1652)

Georges de la Tour’s painting calls me to a profound stillness before his riveting portrayal of the stark contrast between the darkness and the light.  The darkness is so deep.  The light is so bright.  And while there is some debate as to whether or not the artist was actually depicting the Christ child with his mother and St. Anne or simply a French village birth, we certainly can see the gospel story of Christ’s birth imaged in this intense focus on darkness and light.

There is so much darkness in our world today as we approach the holy season of Christmas.  Not just the darkness of the shortened days huddled around the winter solstice, but a deeper darkness.  Wars continue to rage across the globe.  Illness and financial worries darken many of our personal lives.  Poverty persists behind the bright rich facades of so many cities.

I recently read the 2012 National Book Award for nonfiction, Behind the Beautiful Forevers, by Katherine Boo.  It’s a book that tells the story of teen-age Abdul and his family and neighbors, and it powerfully depicts the darkness of life in Annawadi, a wretched slum in the shadow of the airport in Mumbai, India. Abdul’s “job” is to collect, sort, and sell the recyclable garbage scraps thrown out by the airport and the luxurious airport hotels.  Alongside these hotels, flashy billboards advertise elegant tiles that promise to be “beautiful forever” for those who can afford them.  Abdul’s mother longs to have some of these tiles for her tiny slum shack.  Instead, she daily sweeps her uneven stone floor, not-so-beautiful, knowing that, no matter how hard she works, she never can sweep away all the forever grime that seeps into the lives of her family.  Life is dark and difficult and ever so precarious for the citizens of Annawadi.  As it is for so many who live in the slums of big cities around our world.

As it was in that murky stable so long ago when Mary cradled the infant Christ and watched with wonder as Light shone into the gloomy darkness of her world.  Shone and continues to shine, as it shines so vividly in de la Tour’s beautiful painting of the newborn.  Shines in the love we share with each other in these holy days of Advent and Christmas.  Shines in the joy and hope that Christmas renews in our lives.  Shines in every act of kindness, in every step towards justice for which we work and pray.  Shines and points the way to a world in which Abdul will no longer awaken each day to the dark bleakness of his poverty.

Christmas lights cannot hide the darkness lurking behind all the “beautiful forevers” of our world.  Christmas carols cannot muffle the anguished sighs of Abdul and those like him around the world.  But neither can all this darkness extinguish the Light that we celebrate with our Christmas lights and carols.  For “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:5).

It can be so disheartening to look across our broken world and see all the dark shadows that cloud so many lives. We know we won’t be able to right all the wrongs or cure all the maladies.  But maybe we can learn anew to focus on the Light that shone in Bethlehem’s stable long ago.  On the Light that de la Tour so hauntingly portrays.  On St. John’s sure promise that darkness will not overcome that Light.  And as we focus on that Light and celebrate all that Christmas means in our lives and in our world, maybe we can once again bring to the manger the gift of ourselves and offer “our hearts and minds as channels of the Light that wants to flow through every available opening” (from Robert Corin Morris’ Wrestling with Grace).