“Truly it is in darkness that one finds the light.”
I am reluctant to add words—cheapened words—to touch the unspeakable tragedy that strikes our brothers and sisters in Blacksburg this day. All other questions pale when compared to the killing of innocent women and men—young and old—daughters and sons, sisters and brothers, husbands and wives, lovers and friends, students and teachers, colleagues and competitors—born in hope, tempered by challenge, clothed in faith, anxious for a future yet unrevealed, now unrevealable—children of God, who more than any other thing, were loved and needed by others of God’s children. Fallen in violence and terror. Gone too soon. Gone brutally. Violence that in your young lives you have seen too much. Almost as if the shocking thing, the thing never to be anticipated, never to be borne, is expected. The thing never to be contemplated is foreseen. In New York, in Washington, in Pennsylvania, and now in Blacksburg; in our Commonwealth, amongst our family, in our home.
Aeschylus wrote that “In our sleep, pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom, from the awful grace of God.”
No easy lesson joins this day. For our brothers at Virginia Tech, for our community at this College, for young women and men, filled with hope, and failing to approach, much less to comprehend, the injustice and the horror of such acts. No lesson except, perhaps, our faith, as Dr. King wrote, that “unearned suffering is redemptive.” As we believe—that love, not hate, is the strongest power on earth. That as the ancient Greeks claimed, we are charged “to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.” And that “they who mourn are blessed, for they shall be comforted.” For they shall be comforted. For we shall offer comfort.
No lesson except that life, and each precious moment of it, is to be treasured. That we should hold tight to one another, hold fast to our dreams. That the world we inherit needs much. But nothing so much as our love, and commitment, to make steady the way before us; to lighten and enrich the lives of our fellows. To live each day as if its grace and its beauty were a gift—a gift to mark our souls, to open our eyes, to lift and to soothe our hearts. A gift to be received and, when received, regiven. To push back against hatred and violence, and their more subtle companions—companions that tear at the fabric of our common lives, on this small planet. That deny the sanctity of human existence. That cast aside the treasure and the dignity of what we rightly claim as our own. Recognizing that we are bound to one another—as the poet says—all men and women, in sister- and brotherhood, that we are bound and we are bound.
I ask you, as I know you will, to reach out to your brothers and sisters in Blacksburg, and in Williamsburg, and at the destinations that will soon unfold before you. Living each day with hope—hope not as a mere description of the world around you, or as a prediction of the future, but hope as Vaclav Havel described it—a predisposition of the spirit, a habit of the heart. A conscious choice to live in the belief that we can make a difference in the quality of our shared lives. The nobler of hypotheses. Honoring those unjustly taken. Casting our lot on the side of beauty and grace and forgiveness and courage and commitment and selflessness and hope, and, finally, love.
Gotta say I'm proud of that. Wish I thought I could be so eloquent when I preach on Sunday. I'm struggling, with both what to say and how to say it. As Eric pointed out today, our congregation doesn't so much need to be told how to think as to see that we are engaged and to be given tools for their own engagement. God help me do justice to the text and to God's presence in our lives.