"May our sons in their youth
be like plants full grown,
our daughters like corner pillars,
cut for the building of a palace." - Psalm 144:12
We gather the children at the door on the first day of school – their faces shining or scowling, in new school clothes or tattered jeans, with fresh haircuts or last year's shag. As we take the yearly picture, we notice how fragile they are, and how resilient. And whether we heave a sigh of relief or feel a twinge of unexpected sadness as we watch them walk away, we pray that both their resilience and their fragility will guide them.
Our ancestors prayed for the children, that they would grow into plants and pillars – beautiful and robust, wise and powerful. We pray those old prayers too, and other new prayers besides.
These new prayers for the flourishing of our children may fill us with anguish, as when we pray that they dodge both bullies and bullets. These new prayers may fill us with grief, as when we pray for those already caught in the path of destruction, who will not see another first day of school this year, or any year. These new prayers may fill us with a small but steady thrum of hope, as we pray for the children already building the foundations of new structures to replace the crumbling old ones.
The children are gathered at the doorway. We take their pictures. And then we send them off to school with old prayers, and new ones, tucked into their backpacks next to their freshly sharpened pencils and their brown bag lunches. It is all we know how to do. It is all we have ever known how to do.
Holy One – Here are the children. Bless them in all the old ways and all the new ones. Amen.
Jennifer Brownell is the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Vancouver, Washington, and the author of Swim, Ride, Run, Breathe: How I Lost a Triathlon and Caught My Breath, her inspiring memoir.