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Stay in the Ash Heap

Updated: Aug 14, 2023

Note: This reflection was originally posted on Pastor Dan’s Facebook page the evening of May 24 as news of the shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde was breaking. It is now offered here with the addition of this Scripture…

Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and agitated. Then he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.” And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.” Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? —Matthew 26:36-40, NRSV

The Sunday after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, on December 14, 2012, in which a 20-year-old male murdered 26 people, 20 of whom where children between the ages of 6 and 7, Friends Congregational Church was having its Christmas pageant, led entirely by our children and youth. Before the pageant began I stepped into the pulpit and looked over the congregation. The kids were all in another room awaiting their cue to process in for the pageant. The room was completely quiet. The air was thick with a mixture of lament and a hesitancy to embrace the joy that would soon flood the sanctuary. Speaking about what happened at Sandy Hook, I named our anger and sorrow. Then I opened my Bible to Matthew 2:18. It’s a part of the Christmas story that’s never read in pageants and seldom acknowledged in our Advent services:

“A voice was heard in Ramah,

wailing and loud lamentation,

Rachel weeping for her children;

she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

That morning we consoled each other. Our children brought us hope and joy. And we turned our attention to the good that would surely come swiftly after such blatant horror.

That was nearly a decade ago. Today in Uvalde, Rachel is weeping for her children…again. And she refuses to be consoled.

If I got into a pulpit right now and tried to tell people that everything would be alright and found some scripture that advised us to simply pray and be thankful for own safety and well-being, I’d turn into a pillar of salt.

I wouldn’t do that anyway, though. I couldn’t. I can’t. I’m inconsolable. I’m angry and sad. I’m confused and exhausted. And I don’t know what to do but write these honest words and let these thoughts and feelings keep choking my spirit. That’s the only way I know how to hold space right now for my neighbors visited by terror at Robb Elementary in Uvalde. That’s the only way I know how to be.

This is maddening. It makes no sense. All I can offer right now is this: Don’t try to make sense of it. You can’t. And the more you try, the more you go against the nature of your being, which is crafted by a love that will not let you go no matter what happens in this broken, beautiful world. Don’t try to make sense of the nonsensical. But don’t turn away from it either. Stay here in this ash heap. Remain here. Let it sink in. Let it grip you, shake you, maybe change you. Out of these ashes something will rise. It has to, because this…this isn’t sustainable.

Lord, in your mercy.


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