Twenty-seven people, including 20 children, are dead in Newtown, Conn. This headline screamed at us from every computer screen and radio station. No shooting has ever come as close to me as this one, in a school attended by one of my relative's children. There are no words that can adequately address the horror of this slaughter, though I am certain that the thoughts and prayers of our entire nation are occupied by this senseless tragedy.
Still, we need to do some serious soul-searching; we owe it to the victims and their families. Why do school shootings like this continue to happen? What can we do to better protect the innocent lives of the millions of children who attend school every day? And most important, how can we invite God back into our lives and classrooms?
The bottom line is that no number of security guards or metal detectors can ever completely protect us from hatred and violence, and that is why we need to pray to God for protection every day. Sadly, we have driven him from our public schools and can no longer even utter his name. But children and teachers and parents need to be able to talk about him -- now more than ever -- and remind one another that he is still in control. After all, it is God who created each one of us, and who stands close to us every day of our lives, whether we acknowledge him or not. He will have been very close to every child and adult who was killed and has surely received each one of them with open arms.
Knowing this may do little to comfort the heart of a grieving mother, but it is simply a fact: Without God, those of us left behind will never find closure, nor the peace we all long for. So let us stop being afraid of God, and turn to embrace him and his message of hope and forgiveness with faith and confidence. And even as we shrink back in fear -- very justified fear -- let us point one another to the message of the first Christmas angels: "Fear not, for I bring you news of great joy."
JOHANN CHRISTOPH ARNOLD
The writer is founder of Breaking the Cycle, a nonviolence reconciliation program.