A Prayer upon the Death of Children

By Derek Penwell

I’m angry. And maybe now isn’t the best time to write—especially since I don’t have adequate words to express the potent mixture of grief, sadness, and fury.

Children. Little kids in Kindergarten, for God’s sake.

I’m bracing myself for the tired response from gun rights advocates. It’s inevitable. Guns don’t kill people, people kill … blah, blah, blah. I’ve never found this a terribly persuasive argument—even on my best days. But today isn’t my best day. Today—looking into the eyes of my four year-old, trying desperately not to imagine holding his little body in my arms after a gun shot has taken all that is beautiful and kind and good in this world—I can’t even believe those arguments are persuasive to people who think we’d all be better off if everyone had a gun.

I don’t have any coherent argument at this moment. All I have are the images of tiny sheet-draped bodies … and anger. I have lots of anger.

Anger that we live in a world in which people (Sick? Mean? Struggling? Evil? What kind of people are they?) walk into schools, stare into the face of innocence, and proceed to try to blot it out.
Anger that some folks will continue to maintain in the face of the carnage that society has no overriding interest in regulating weapons designed to kill and maim from a distance, simply by contracting the muscles in a single finger.
Anger that God watches over this fiasco in silence. (I’m not defending God on this one. God’s going to have to defend God’s own self, since, at present, I don’t even know where to begin figuring out where God is in the midst of all this. But about the only thing I have right now is the threadbare hope that somehow God is there in the midst of it all.)

I guess that’s my prayer:

God of all children, please be there in the midst of it all. In the midst of the tears, and adrenaline, and stark horror … please be there. And more than that, help us to find you there … with tears on your cheeks and the blood of your children still on your face. We need to know that you’re there with us, in the thick of it … where the vomit and the gore ruin our khakis, and the smell settles into our pores, threatening to become a permanent part of the way the world smells to us.
Please be there, O God. For those parents and friends who feel abandoned by you, please be there in ways that offer if not comfort, then at least the strength to make it through the next few minutes until the next wave hits. For the teachers and the police and the people who have to clean up this mess, who also feel afraid, and sad, and like they’ve failed, please bear them up to be able to face the horror that lies in front of them, and to be able to transform the memories of what lies behind them into something more than just raw terror and disgust.
And for us. Please be there for the rest of us who struggle to figure out how we’ve come to a point where Kindergartners must fear armed strangers in the womb of our educational system. Help us to find the words to put to our rage and despair, to find the words to comfort those who need be comforted, to find the words to speak justice and peace to a world bent on filling graves with the bodies of children, to find the words necessary not to meet this violence with more violence.
Please be there, O God. Please.

I’m a pastor, and part of my job is to help people find words for the experiences for which there are no words. But I don’t have it in me today. I can’t find them.

All I’ve got is a stupid prayer. I wish it were more. I wish we were better.