such tender skin
and ask us
to carry fire?
We are consumed
by our own smoldering
the power we carry to scald.
Dress the wounds
we have borne
from our own burning.
Make us wise
to the fire in our bones
that it may be
for warmth and light
in all our darkness.
-- Jan L. Richardson
I've taken the shootings in Sandy Hook harder than I expected. Last night I couldn't stop thinking about the teacher who hid her students in closets, or the shooter's mother seeing her child point a gun at her, or the parents waiting to hear if their five and six year olds were still alive. In church this morning I watched gorgeous children carrying wrapped presents in a single file line to the front where they would sing, my eyes filled with tears for the mothers and fathers whose babies are dead today rather than in a Christmas pageant, or at home having a late breakfast. Their futures were too bright as they walked by me, I had to look away.
I spoke with the mother of my friend Bri this weekend. We catch up by phone when I'm in North America and it's so refreshing. We met because my friend died in West Africa in a terrible car accident, with many others, and I had the privilege of spending the last six months of her life with her. She was 25. A month after her death I flew to be with her family in California, my own body still aching from the accident, my heart in shock. A tragic way to bond but it does bring you close; I told them every story I could from our months together, recounting their daughter's compassion and courage and love for Nigerian fashion, things they already knew. It's was seven years this week, but it's Christmas again soon and that holiday will always be etched with grief. The shootings in Connecticut brought a fresh wave of pain, she knows what it's like to lose your baby suddenly, to say goodbye for the last time with no idea it's the last time. God has worked miracles, weaved redemption threads so beautiful and strong, drawing people in and sending them out touched, always touched by Bri's life; her mom will testify to that all day long. But I'm pretty sure she'd rather have her baby girl in her arms.
There are too many mothers in the world who have buried their children. Whether it's a car accident, cancer, malaria or murder it's all chaotic and horrible and I can hardly go there in my heart and imagination while still breathing. I've met some of these mothers, I've held their hands and sung to them and the world keeps spinning, but even seven years or twenty-five and there will be something fresh in the pain, some wondering about how their child would have been on this day, of this year. The rest of us will move on from their loss as the earth takes us around again; they will always be a mother who has buried her child.
We have to look death in the face this week, we can't pretend it couldn't happen to us. In order to stop fear from moving in and holding me completely hostage to 'what ifs' and a thousand scenarios I have to remind myself of a different story. It's the truest one, where one day there is no more death, or mourning or crying or pain for the old order of sin and disease and corruption and hatred has passed away. There are no small coffins, no coffins at all. This is not escapism and it doesn't replace the hard and healing work of grief, corporate and on our own. This is hope, as raw as it gets. The world isn't headed for disaster, although it may seem that way. Heaven and earth were never meant to be separated and human history has been dark - but the grain of the universe is reconciliation. Nothing is outside the scope of God's healing work, as slow as it may be; no traumatized child or grieving parent, no person with mental health issues or firearms or terrorizing rage. Not even the shooter and the children and women who were killed on Friday.
Someday, in real history and real time, God will come and make His home with us here on earth. With God will come the right and just realities of heaven even here, where God's own fingers will wipe our collective tears away, one by one. And until then, because of then, we choose the way of love. Tonight as I rocked my son before bed I told him how much I loved him, and that there was nothing he could do that would change that. I thought of Adam Lanza's mom, how if she could, I'm sure she would be rocking her son tonight, weeping and praying and assuring him of her love, though most of the world hate him. Even now I imagine him in the arms of God, made whole for the first time, held tight by a fierce mother-love that can't be stopped by death or demons, nor anything else in all creation. This is the love that gives me hope for the world's future. As Wendell Berry writes in his novel Jayber Crow,
"For love is always more than a little strange here. It is not explainable or even justifiable. It is itself the justifier. We do not make it. If it did not happen to us, we could not imagine it. It includes the world and time as a pregnant woman includes her child whose wrongs she will suffer and forgive. It is in the world but it is not altogether of it. It takes us there even when it most holds us here."
As important as I believe gun control is (and support for families affected by mental illness, and even non-violent and responsive parenting) my hope is in the mother-love of God: belly taut with promise, already in labour over us until even the worst parts of us are reconciled once and for all.
"The wolf will live with the lamb; the leopard will lie down with the young goat. The calf and the lion will graze together, and a little child will lead them." Isaiah 11:6