The God Squad: A prayer for Uvalde
When I heard about Uvalde, and when I heard nine days before Uvalde about the massacres at a church in Laguna Woods, California, and at a Buffalo supermarket, my heart was broken. The first thing I learned about my heart in these tragic times is that it is never completely broken. It’s just that sometimes it’s only half whole. The reasons for my heart’s half wholeness are my faith in God and my belief in what Abraham Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature.”
God gives me hope and courage to believe that the good in us will win. To say that God is “my rock and my redeemer” (Heb: tzuri v’goali), a phrase we encounter in the last verse of Psalm 19, is to somehow summon up the belief that most all of our children will continue to laugh and play and go to school and come home to supper, pajamas and bedtime stories. Yes, most all of them, but not all of them. Some of them will be lost to the evil that lives among us, but that is not a reason to surrender all our hope. We were never guaranteed by God that we and those we love will escape all the dangers of life. Some of those fatal dangers are natural as when the winds and floods and fires of planet Earth trap us and bring our souls to God before our time, but some of those dangers are totally on us.
We own Uvalde — not God, and yet even in the evils we cause or allow, God is with us. Psalm 23 about the good shepherd comforts us that God is with us even in the valley of the shadow of death. Perhaps that is why the second instinct of the families at the scene was to pray together. Their first instinct was to scream screams that come from our deepest place of fear and rage and sorrow.
I also believe in us. I still believe that we will as a nation find a way to honor our freedoms while also honoring our rage. I believe that there will be a way to keep deranged 18 year olds from buying assault rifles as birthday presents. There must be — there will be — a way to keep guns out of the hands of our pursuers. There will be a way to train police to act swiftly and lethally to stop our pursuers. It is just insane that we are more protected at sporting events than in elementary schools. It took America centuries to end slavery, give women the right to vote, and marry all people who are in love. We can do this. If we challenge our rage into effective political organizing, we will do this. We simply cannot live together with the sound of gunfire in the background of our lives.
I am, however, deeply worried about what will happen to our people, especially our young people, who do not believe in God and who do not believe in the ultimate triumph of our collective will. They are paralyzed with fear and fear is contagious just like hope and faith are contagious. These numbed, fearful cynics among us need to be tutored in hope by those of us who have not yet lost hope. A brighter future and a new dawn of hope and moral virtue in America will not be possible without them.
I am a rabbi but the hope to heal us comes from every great faith and wisdom tradition. The wise chaplain of Yale, Rev. William Sloan Coffin (1924-2006), wrote, “I’ve often been asked if religious faith isn’t just a crutch. Yes, it is, I would answer. But what makes you think you aren’t limping? We are limping now, but our ancestor Jacob also limped after wrestling with the angel at the ford of the Jabbok River. He limped for the rest of his life, but he never stopped limping forward.
I will study again the words of the great Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, “Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; Therefore, we must be saved by hope.” And I will study again the words of the great C.S. Lewis, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” His Christianity was in the same place in his life as Judaism is in mine. Through it I see everything.
I am then going to study the words of my prophet of hope, Isaiah, “Seek ye God while God may be found, call ye upon God while God is near.” (55:6). That seeking does not depend on where God chooses to be. That seeking depends upon where we choose to be. After Uvalde let us choose to be together and let us choose life.
(Send ALL QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS to The God Squad via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Rabbi Gellman is the author of several books, including “Religion for Dummies,” co-written with Fr. Tom Hartman. Also, the new God Squad podcast is now available.)
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