The fire is blazing. The room is quiet. The view out the window peaceful and serene—a broad valley filled with vineyards and behind the valley, mountains rising in the fog. Yet I am moved to cry with the prophet Jeremiah, “…we looked for peace, and there is no good; and for the time of healing, and behold trouble!” When I close my eyes, I hear the echoes of gun shots reverberating in my mind; I see children—some huddled behind locked doors or under desks, others sprawled on their classroom floor; I hear the howls and wails of parents; I see their tear-stained faces; and I begin to wonder with that person in Elie Wiesel’s Night who demanded when he saw a child being hanged in a concentration camp, “Where is God?”
Last night, at a Taize vespers service, we sang the words, “Bless the Lord, my soul, and bless God’s holy name; Bless the Lord, my soul, who leads me into light.” The chapel was almost dark. Only the light of the candles on the altar at its base and surrounding the bultos of Mary and the baby to the left of the altar and St. Francis to the right. “Where is that light tonight?” I wondered as the words surged through the notes. Silence followed the chant.
Then the singing began again. “Wait for the Lord, whose day is near/Wait for the Lord, be strong, take heart.” The music began to carry me to a different place. Not the peace or the good or the healing I was longing for, but at least a moment of rest. Maybe ten minutes and four chants later, we began to sing, “O God, keep me safe for I trust in You/The pathway to life You teach me/With you is peace and joy in all fullness.” Peace—joy in all fullness? I wasn’t there yet. (And I’m still not there.) I wanted to scream out, “Where is the joy for those children? Where is the peace for those parents?”
Again we settled into silence. And again the silence was broken by the sound of human voices accompanied by piano. “Peace I leave you/peace I give./Let your hearts be free from fear,/Peace I give to you.” Again the words of the prophet Jeremiah echoed in my ears, “Peace, peace, but there is no peace.”
When tragedy strikes—be it on a grand scale like that yesterday in Newtown, Connecticut, or on a small scale as it does in every human life—peace is hard to come by. It doesn’t come quickly. Sometimes, peace descends slowly, bit by bit. At other times, one day you wake up and you find yourself surprised by peace. For some it begins to feel like peace will never come.
Last night, in that darkened chapel, the chanting continued, as did the discordance I was hearing when I listened to the words of the chants and the words of our lives and of our world. We closed with a chant I knew well, as do many of you. Again and again we sang the words, “Ubi caritas et amor/Ubi caritas, Deus ibi est”—“Wherever love and compassion dwell, God is there.”
The young Elie Wiesel—just a boy really—stood in the crowd watching another young boy die slowly hanging from a rope. A bitter shout rang out, “Where is God?” A tentative voice replied, “There.” “Ubi caritas et amor/Ubi caritas, Deus ibi est”—“Wherever love and compassion dwell, God is there.” There on a cross in Golgatha. There in a Nazi death camp. There in a school in Connecticut. There in the dark places that are a part of every human life.
Ubi caritas et amor/Ubi caritas, Desu ibi est.