Rainbows, God’s Fingerprints and Miracles
June 15, 2016
As a result of the horrific events that unfolded in Orlando on Sunday morning, I found myself standing in Market Square Park in Augusta on Tuesday evening, clutching a piece of paper, waiting for a vigil to begin, waiting to step up to the microphone and lead those assembled in prayer. I felt conflicted about praying words of comfort and solace to the LGBTQ community when my faith tradition had, for so many years, been complicit in furthering their oppression and exclusion, inscribing in the very constitution of our denomination words of judgment, bigotry, and condemnation of these fellow children of God. I had been granted the privilege of praying with and for these siblings of mine on Tuesday night, but it was a privilege I had not earned and did not deserve. At least not unless I had the courage to apologize first.
So hours earlier, I had composed a prayer that began with an apology. I framed the rest of the prayer with the image of the rainbow from Genesis, a symbol of God’s abiding presence even in the aftermath of horrific destruction. It seemed like a fitting message, especially since the rainbow is also a symbol for the LGBTQ community. The prayer written, I clicked “print” and closed my computer.
The sky was cloudy as I headed north at 5:30, stopping in Brunswick to pick up Bill Barter along the way. As we continued toward Augusta, we drove through occasional rain showers and wondered aloud if we would need umbrellas at the vigil. At 6:45, as we stood in the park waiting for the vigil to begin, the skies cleared. And then someone pointed up to the sky. “Look! A rainbow!” There it was, arching over our heads with spectacular colors shimmering in the late day sun. I told Bill about the rainbow prayer I held in my hand, written hours before. “Isn’t that an amazing coincidence?!?” I asked. “It’s got God’s fingerprints all over it!”
Then the rainbow faded, and the vigil began. 50 candles were lit as church bells tolled 50 times. I stepped to the microphone and offered that apology. What happened next caught me completely off guard. From the group of 150 people gathered in front of me, people began to respond aloud “We forgive you.” Those of you who know me well won’t be surprised to hear that I began to cry. But I took a deep breath, collected myself, and recited that rainbow prayer. The vigil continued with beautiful tributes from clergy of many different faith traditions. We sang “Let There Be Peace On Earth,” and then an Episcopal priest stepped forward to offer a closing benediction.
As he finished, you could hear the crowd gasp in wonder as they looked overhead to see an extraordinary double rainbow suddenly appear in the sky above us. And I knew in that moment, we all knew, in that deep-down-in-your-bones kind of way of knowing, that we were witnessing a miracle. I don’t use that word lightly. Actually, I don’t use it hardly at all. But we witnessed a miracle in Augusta on Tuesday night.
Maybe we witnessed more than one. The rainbows, for sure, were a sign from God that we were not alone and God will always be faithful, even when things have gone so horribly, tragically wrong. Pure miracle. But to hear the spontaneous words “We forgive you” when you’re apologizing for a sin you think is unforgivable—that also felt like a miracle to me. For so many strangers to gather together in public to pray and cry and vow to continue to work for justice and peace? To see Christians, Muslims, Jews, and Buddhists leading worship together with love and respect? Weren’t those miracles, too?
God sends us signs, beacons of hope when we are lost in a sea of despair. When we think the deluge of grief over unending waves of violence and hatred will overtake us, God reminds us we are not alone. We are forgiven. And, miracle of miracles, we are loved.