Newtown's Rev. Matthew Crebbin reflects on the anxiety about the anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting and transforming grief and anger into love and action to make a better world.
Psalm 146, verse five says, "Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD their God." I'm wondering if scratching out Jacob and writing in Jesse, at least in these upcoming weeks, might be a way of praying to transform anger and resentment into love and forgiveness.
Jesse was a pretty amazing six-year-old who loved adventures, mud, a golden yellow bear and his big brother. His mom says he was "full of courage and strength," so much so, that in the midst of the unfolding tragedy Jesse stood still and told his classmates to "Run!" In so doing, he lost his life.
Scarlett Lewis, Jesse's mom, returned home after the unthinkable tragedy only to find something wonderful Jesse had scratched onto the kitchen chalkboard Norturing, helin, love. His mom knew immediately these were Jesse's last words to her: nurturing, healing, love. In her book, Nurturing Healing Love: A Mother's Journey of Hope & Forgiveness, Scarlett tells the story of her journey to forgiveness and hope as a legacy beyond anger and resentment. She begins, of course, with Jesse's story.
I'm writing Jesse's words into the margins of my Bible next to Psalm 146. His words are an invitation to live differently than the way our culture pushes us to exist. His words make sense when I read them alongside this ancient text of Psalm 146.
In three verses, Psalm 146 makes nine statements about the nurturing, healing and loving initiatives of the Lord God; the Creator God who made the earth, all its inhabitants and kindles the faith of those who continue to belief despite life's tragedies.
In verse seven, the Psalmist names the first three: "This God will execute justice, give food to the hungry and set the prisoners free." This is a description of the divine actions of a God who nurtures. The Latin root of the word nurture means "to feed" and "to cherish" and clearly we see those actions in these divine initiatives. God cherishes justice, this Lord cherishes freedom for those wrongly imprisoned and this God cherishes full bellies, particularly for those children (and countries) who are hungry only by way of the greed of this world. Jesse Lewis may still have been learning how to spell "nurturing," but he certainly lived into the fullness of its meaning as he cherished the lives he would protect in his last moments.
As the eighth verse unfolds, we encounter three additional divine verbs: opens, lifts and loves. These movements are the outpouring of a God who heals. Here, the Lord opens the eyes of the blind, lifts up those who are bowed down in grief, and loves those who are seeking to be made right with God. Healing here is interactive: There is a divine encounter that is met within the everyday movements of ordinary life. I have a feeling that in a place as ordinary as the kitchen of Jesse Lewis, there were moments that encounters between the fridge and the dishwasher became a sanctuary for opening eyes to grace, lifting off the backpack filled with the weight of a hard day, loving the kid with the skinned knee and the tadpole in his pocket. Healing is always tucked between nurturing and loving because it is born of the intimacy that bandages the knee of the golden bear tucked underarm immediately after the presenting wound is patched.
"Love" is the last world I will write in the margins of Psalm 146, right next to verse nine and its injunction to watch over the stranger, uphold the widow and the orphan and bring the way of the wicked to ruin. Love is easy to scrawl next to the first two divine actions: Watch over and uphold. Love always does these two things. The third one is a little tougher, but the Psalmist asks us to consider that in love, God will bring the way of the wicked to ruin. Even more than we, God grieves the devastation caused by the shooting at Sandy Hook. God aches for the widows, the orphans and the mothers and fathers who have lost their children to untimely tragedy. Out of that love, God does tend wisely to those wicked things beyond our control and beyond our comprehension. Our work is to love fiercely in all the ways we can. Jesse Lewis knew that: love the stranger on the play ground, love the one who doesn't have someone to hold them at the end of a hard day.
Many have tended to a tradition at Christmas called the Jesse Tree where 24 ornaments are hung day by day on a tree, slowly telling the salvation story from Genesis to Revelation. This Christmas, I am zooming in on those three words taught to us by Jesse Lewis: Nurturing. Healing. Love. And I am letting Psalm 146 flesh out nine divine initiatives I might lean into as an act of choosing that love Jesse Lewis knew so well. Jesse Lewis invites us this advent season to consider what it means to "Choose Love" and his family has started a foundation to nurture those acts of compassion in classrooms across the globe.
Happy are those whose help is the God of this Jesse -- Jesse Lewis -- who in his short life, mastered three words it takes most of us a lifetime to learn: nurture, heal, love.
Questions for Discussion
1. One year later, has the tragedy at Sandy Hook changed Americans and America? How so? If the answer is yes, what do you see? If the answer is no, what do you think prevents us from substantive change?
2. Many articles about the aftermath of the tragedy focus on two things: calculating grief for dispensation of funds to families harmed by the event and second, exploring the ongoing ways grief continues to affect both individuals and the whole of the community. The author of this article deliberately chose to zoom in on an individual - Jesse Lewis. What angle would you have taken to understand the ramifications of this event one year later?
3. Eugene Peterson's interpretation of this Psalm in The Message translation offers a contemporary version with vibrant language. Reading his version, which line 'stands out in bold' to you and why? What message from this Psalm do you want to remember this Advent season?
For Further Reading
The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary by Robert Alter
Psalms for Praying: An Invitation to Wholeness by Nan C. Merrill
Spirituality of the Psalms by Walter Brueggemann
Newtown: An American Tragedy by Matthew Lysiak
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