It happened a week ago today. Where were you when you heard the news?
I had just left my Tuesday afternoon Bible study at church when the news came on the car radio of a shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. One dead, others injured. School resource officers engaged the shooter, we were initially told.
But as the news media and Texas officials pressed for answers, facts emerged. By late evening, Mike and I were gasping in horror at the carnage count ribboning across our TV screen. 19 children and 2 teachers.
And no one had tried to stop the gunman.
Are you ever so numbed by horror that you cannot even whisper a prayer?
You’re not alone.
The next morning, I video-messaged our daughter. As soon as she saw my face, Amber stepped aside, out of earshot of my grandchildren. She didn’t need to ask why I was calling.
“Mom, there is only one entrance to our school, and it’s locked at all times. They have a plan in place. The kids are not afraid.”
After the Uvalde massacre, I spoke to my children. I spoke to my husband. I spoke to my friends and pastor.
But I struggled to speak to God.
After Uvalde, there have been at least a dozen more mass shootings in the US over Memorial Day weekend alone.
I have no words for the violence in my beloved country.
I have no words for God.
But I know where to find them.
In his new book Open and Unafraid: the Psalms as a Guide for Life, author W.David.O.Taylor writes:
"In the psalms there is no faithful prayer that trivializes evil, no genuine faith that ignores the destructive and self-destructive powers of sin, and no true witness that turns a blind eye to the violence of our world. And it is for this reason that we turn to the psalms for guidance in times such as this, for they show us what we can, and indeed should, be praying in a violent world."
This morning, I used the words of Psalm 10 to pour out my lament.
“O Lord, why do you stand so far away?... The wicked arrogantly hunt down the poor…
They lurk in ambush in the villages, waiting to murder innocent people. They are always searching for helpless victims. Like lions crouched in hiding, they wait to pounce on the helpless… Their helpless victims are crushed; they fall beneath the strength of the wicked. The wicked think, “God isn’t watching us! He has closed his eyes and won’t even see what we do!”
But you see the trouble and grief they cause. You take note of it and punish them. The helpless put their trust in you. You defend the orphans… Lord, you know the hopes of the helpless. Surely you will hear their cries and comfort them. You will bring justice to the orphans and the oppressed, so mere people can no longer terrify them.” - from Psalm 10
I grew up in a faith tradition that spurned anything remotely liturgical, including written prayers. It was as if we thought we’d get extra points for originality.
And yet the Psalms were Jesus’ own prayer book. At times when we have no words, and especially then, we can pray our pain back to God given the very words Jesus used.
Veteran missionary Amy Carmichael once wrote about the deaths of the children of India she was working to protect:
“They are not lost to us who are found to Christ; they are not sent away, but only sent before. Sometimes they simply outrun us in the quick race home. We have learned here that sorrow is lent, not given. It is ours to taste only for a time, and it will be taken away one day.”
One thing I know for sure: Those beautiful children from Uvalde?
They are safe at home in the arms of God.
- Maggie W. Rowe, 2022
A Prayer After a Mass Shooting
O Lord, you who abhor those who murder the innocent, be not deaf to our bitter cries, we pray, and do not abandon us to our pain this day. Hear our raging words of protest, O God of Jacob, heed our groans for justice and meet us in this lowly and desperate place. Awake, Lord! Rouse yourself! Deliver us from evil, for your name’s sake! We pray this so that we might witness your might to save and your power to heal. We pray this in the name of our Fortress and Refuge. Amen. – W.David.O.Taylor