‘…give each other grace…’

Posted on Thursday, December 20, 2012 at 1:53 pm

(Editor’s Note: Christian White, a third grade teacher at Lewis and Clark Elementary School, wrote the following message, which was distributed by principal Howard Pellegreen to the school staff. White gave permission for its publication.)

Last Friday afternoon, the day of the terrible tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, I stayed late at school trying to finish up some things for this week. Preparing to leave, I looked up from my desk and there was a fellow teacher, with tears in her eyes and real pain on her face.  She came up to my desk and said to me, “I just have one simple request. Can you please reassure me that this will never happen here at our school?” Then the fear and the pain within her poured out.

As I listened, I could see and feel the intense difficulty she was having in comprehending such a tragedy.  How could such senseless violence and evil invade the lives of teachers and children in a school? How could such a thing happen to innocent children? And why at this particular season of the year, when our minds are turning to thoughts of peace and joy, and the Christmas carols intone that all is calm and bright?

I comforted her as best I could.  But her feelings burned within my heart as well.  As we parted, I pondered her anguish and my own.  Do normal patterns of life and understandings of faith make sense in the face of such terrible violence and evil?

It is helpful for me to remember that the actual story of Christmas was never like the Christmas card ideal. The real story was one of desperate times, of a young couple on the move, she unwed and pregnant, who found no room at the inn.  In the face of King Herod’s intentional rage against children (he had declared that any male Jewish baby less than two years old be killed), the young family had to flee for their lives into Egypt.  The significance of that first Christmas for me is that hope can break into desperate and tragic times, that out of the darkness came light. The essential message of Christmas, like that of Hanukkah, is not addressed to just those who are living in good times. It is for those in need as well, for those whose world may have been turned upside down.

For those who know and are experiencing real, true pain and sorrow, the old Christmas carol “Lo, How a Rose Ere Blooming,” captures the paradox of life that blossoms not in the balmy days of spring, but in the bleak mid-winter as well:

Its fairest bud unfolds to light,

Amid the cold, cold winter,

And in the dark midnight,

Life springs up in the face of darkness.

The Jewish celebration of Hanukkah, which just ended, commemorates the rededication of the temple in Jerusalem after an invasion by enemies is finally overcome.  Those who opened the temple only had enough oil for candles for one day, but, miraculously, it lasted for eight days.  A traditional Hanukkah prayer gives thanks to God in this way:

You in your abundant mercy rose up for them in their time of trouble, pled their cause, executed judgment, avenged their wrongs, and delivered the strong into the hands of the weak…

Kindling the Hanukkah lights for eight days acknowledges the deliverance of a small, struggling people in an hour of great need.

Sometimes, a problem with the holidays is the idealized view of all being merry and bright: new fallen snow, happy families exchanging gifts, merry carolers around the fire and sleigh bells ringing in the background.

Unfortunately, that is not where most of us live. We know or have known agony and loss.  Our pain and fears do not vanish with the holidays. And in those times of darkness, though we try to rise above pain and trouble, we never feel quite as festive as the season dictates.

Today, Christmas does not provide easy answers to the mysteries that grow out of pain and sorrow, the tragedies in our lives, any more than it did for fearful shepherds or puzzled wise men long ago.  Sometimes we are left with few words and many tears. Yet it does provide a message of hope amidst pain.  An old Christmas hymn expresses this yearning:

Morning Star, my soul’s true light, tarry not, dispel my night.

My dear Lewis and Clark Elementary School family, this season we face the holidays against a backdrop of sadness and loss.  These realities encourage us to re-evaluate what is important.  They draw us to seek comfort among families, friends, and our faith, to hold each other tight and give each other grace. They call us to become more thankful, more generous, and more committed to embracing those who are suffering and those who grieve.

Let me close with a poem for our LCES Family and those we mourn:

Still I Rise

When trouble comes and my soul decries

Still I rise, still I rise

When fear and doubt are all about

Still I rise, still I rise


Though dreams be shattered and my spirit worn

Thou my body broken and my heart be torn

And I count myself with those who mourn

Still I rise, still I rise


Though death may triumph for the day

And evil’s grasp is holding sway

And in my pain there seems no way

Still I rise, still I rise.


For His Grace and love doth give me sight

To find you there in the darkest night

And together…you and I!

We will rise!  We will rise!


May you find hope and peace and healing this Christmas.

Christian White


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