09/16/2013 10:57 pm ET Updated Sep 17, 2013

Navy Yard Shooter's Motive Addressed At Washington National Cathedral Service


WASHINGTON -- Meditations on the roots of violence were front and center Monday during an evening prayer service at the Washington National Cathedral.

A layman at the nation's house of worship, Andrew Hullinger, led several dozen worshippers in prayer not only for the victims of Monday's mass shooting at the Washington Navy Yard, but also for "the lost, for whom violence seems the only option."

The shooting Monday morning left 13 people dead, including the man police identified as the shooter, civilian military contractor Aaron Alexis.

The 35-minute service was striking for its emphasis on the roots of violence in individuals. The three readings of the day, chosen before the shootings, dealt with biblical characters who died violently as a result of misdeeds -- Aaron, brother of Moses; Jezebel, wife of Ahab, and the elders of the Book of Daniel, who were executed for falsely accusing a woman of promiscuity.

Though technically unrelated, it was difficult to separate the stories of righteous execution from reports that police shot and killed Alexis.

The dean of the National Cathedral, the Very Rev. Gary Hall, will mark his one-year anniversary next month. Since the December 2012 mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., Hall has transformed the ministry of the cathedral into a more opinionated, some might say activist, house of worship.

"We're living in this tension of what it means, as a cathedral, to both convene dialogue, and to advocate for specific opinions," National Cathedral spokesman Richard Weinberg said late Monday. "The cathedral is a spiritual home to the nation, but what Rev. Hall is doing is also leading the cathedral is what we, as Christians, see as a Gospel mandate."

These mandates have included, in recent months, speaking out against gun violence and in favor of stricter gun laws; advocating for marriage equality; and addressing the unique issues facing veterans after wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"The separation of church and state doesn't mean that faith doesn't have an important voice, or that faith communities should withhold from responding to the issues of the day," said Weinberg. "Days like today are one way that we, as people of faith, address the world around us."

The prayer during Monday's sermon was chosen was from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, and seemed applicable to Monday's attack.

"We offer prayers for our city this night and for all whose lives have been affected by the shooting at the Navy Yard. Let us remember the dead, the wounded, and their families. Let us pray for the first responders, the caregivers, and those who serve. Let us pray for the lost, for whom violence seems the only option," Hullinger said.

"Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work or watch or wait this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ, give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; all for your love's sake."