As I write this, the torch already burns in the concourse at my son's high school. The news van from the local ABC affiliate television station is on the scene, interviewing students for today's telecasts. The NBC news van pulled up this morning just as I dropped off my son. A third news van was also setting up. Sad to say, multiple news vans don't show up in our quiet town to report a good-news story. And the torch? As you perhaps guess, they light it only as a tribute, a memorial to a student lost.
A tragedy has struck our community. A senior student, driving close to the campus, lost control of his car. For reasons not yet clear to me, a couple of his friends were riding in the trunk and were killed. It was not, strictly speaking, a joy ride for new grads. Grad night isn't quite here for our school. But I can't miss the connection.
My son is a high school senior. Like countless families at this time of year, we've been inundated for weeks with cautionary reminders from the school and the local police, to help our graduating students have a safe and sober and drug-free celebration. This morning our community reels under the thought of how needed those reminders are.
What to do? How to help? How to comfort - maybe even bring a degree of healing to the families? I ask myself these questions. I think not just of this community, but of every community that aims to shepherd its class of new grads safely on to the next chapter in their lives. I remember this promise in the Bible: "I am the Lord your God. Wherefore ye shall do my statutes, and keep my judgments, and do them; and ye shall dwell in the land in safety" (Lev. 25:17-18).
Dwell in the land in safety. Is it a promise not just for thousands of years ago, but also for today? For every high school student? Yes. I know that to accept a promise from God, to affirm it and acknowledge it - even in the face of this tragic scene - is to pray. It is to make a positive difference, no matter how slight. Those prayers, I know, are more helpful than more tears.
Accounts from the Bible occur to me. Accounts where again and again, safety trumps impending tragedy. Daniel in the lions' den. The three young Hebrews in the fiery furnace. Elisha and his servant encircled by enemy forces. In every instance those Old Testament figures remained safe; they experienced divine protection and deliverance. And from the New Testament, St. Paul's whole ministry reads like a long string of deliverances: from a shipwreck, from imprisonment, from snakebite, and so on.
Common to those instances of safety was prayer - prayer grounded in some awareness of the nature and goodness of God. I remember that God is divine Love. He is eternal Life. He is undefeatable Truth. As I grasp the meaning of those biblical terms, the reality and the comforting, healing power of God's love become more vivid to me. They help me ground my own prayers in that which is transforming.
A book I read along with the Bible, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," by spiritual visionary Mary Baker Eddy, says: "Understanding the control which Love held over all, Daniel felt safe in the lions' den, and Paul proved the viper to be harmless. All of God's creatures, moving in the harmony of Science, are harmless, useful, indestructible" (page 514).
As I ponder that passage, I see my assignment is to understand the control of God who is pure Love. That control was more than enough to help those biblical giants. It must be enough to help high school kids stay safe today. I believe prayer is not just to comfort in the aftermath of a tragedy. I believe prayer, when hewed to faithfully, has preventive power. Together with all those advisories from the school district and the police department, can prayer help prevent tragedy and forward a safe and sober celebration? I believe it can.
I know the news vans won't be rolling up to report a tragedy that didn't happen. Not even one that didn't happen because of the community's prayers. That's OK. Those who pray in this community - those of every faith - make a difference. Their prayers add, at least in some modest degree, to the protection of our new grads. I find solace in that.