Following the horrific events in Newtown, Connecticut, Union reserved one of the chapels for use by members of the campus community who wanted a space for silent prayer and reflection. Sitting next to one of my classmates and holding each other as we sobbed at the unimaginable tragedy that was unfolding, I found myself lose all sense of hope. How are we supposed to believe in the inherent good of all people when events like these occur? Innocent lives are lost every day to the senselessness of violence, and the reality sinks in that there are evils in the world that we as a society are responsible for creating. I could not help but feel lost as my faith in the core of goodness within every being was violated so brutally. I knew mine was a worldview that many describe as naïve, but it was one that gave me hope, that motivated my call to ministry. When the space was opened up for prayers, I voiced my sense of deep confusion – “I don’t understand. I keep thinking I just don’t understand. Why does this keep happening? I pray for the day when we no longer need to try to understand these tragedies.” The group responded together “Lord, hear our prayer.” Another student spoke about how he hoped that we would always be able to create spaces that allowed us to come together and heal our pain, before these sorts of horrors occurred. He prayed for communities that would include everybody, including those carrying the same kind of pain that the man who committed these acts must have felt to end 28 lives. “Lord, hear our prayer.” Another student asked for God to have mercy on all of us. “Lord, hear our prayer.” Prayers were said for teachers, for the families of those whose lives were cut unexpectedly short, for the first responders, for the children whose innocence was ripped out from under them. After each one, we responded, “Lord, hear our prayer.” It did not matter that in the room there were people from a variety of faith traditions, some of whom were likely more humanist than theist. Each time we asked for our prayer to be heard, it was not only a call for God to hear our prayer. It was a call of solidarity to all people of the world, asking us to come together and answer our prayer. As we left the chapel, I still felt lost, but no longer afraid or alone. There was hope in our prayer, there was a belief that change was possible.
When I took the elevator back to my dormitory floor, I posed a question to one of my peers – “How am I supposed to minister in a world where this happens?” Almost immediately, I felt the answer arise from the depths of my soul – I am supposed to minister in this world because this happens. Tragedies like the one at Sandy Hook cannot end by being sources of despair and evidence of evil. These moments pose questions and prayers that we, as individuals and as communities, must and do answer with love and action. We know that no matter what horrific acts we experience or witness, our world is a good world, and our work reminds everyone of that truth. As I returned to my studying later that evening, I found myself listening to a song that many know as an anthem for healing and peace – “Let It Be.” I was compelled to listen to the song multiple times; it became a meditation that, with each round of the song, helped me touch and release the sorrow I was feeling. After hearing for what was probably the fiftieth time the words “there will be an answer”, I realized that there was in fact already an answer. Our outrage following these events, our love for one another, our commitment to see that day when we no longer need to search for an explanation – these are the answers to our prayers. And even though we will continue to mourn the young and beautiful lives that were lost not only on December 14, but every day around the world, we must remember that there will be an answer. So long as we seek to bring peaceful prevention and not violent retribution – so long as we continue to fight for justice with love – we will give answers to our prayers.
Ranwa Hammamy is a member of the First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia,
and is currently a student at Union Theological Seminary in New York City.