From Tain Gregory — This Child of Faith: Raising a Spiritual Child in a Secular World

Today marks the sixth anniversary of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut. Our youngest author, Tain Gregory, and his mother and co-author, Sophfronia Scott, were deeply affected by the events of that day, and wrote about their experiences and their faith in the book This Child of Faith: Raising a Spiritual Child in a Secular World. Tain is 14 now, and today he shares some thoughts on how he has grown since that day six years ago.

This past October, I stood with my mom in front of a crowd of people of all ages at Trinity Church in Asheville, North Carolina. We gave a speech about our book, This Child of Faith to an audience of 160 people. Many people in the meeting asked me questions about my experiences and my strong faith, but it was really nice when I got to talk to a younger boy named Collin. Collin was very energetic, and asked questions as fast as a cheetah. We talked to each other after the speech, and he asked questions about people who act mean to others. I think I really helped him a lot. My mom and I have been giving speeches in other churches in many different states. We’ve been doing this for about a year. When I started writing This Child of Faith I was only in 7th grade. Now it is almost the 1 year anniversary of the book, and a lot has changed since then.

I find it amazing that I have been going to church for nearly 8 years! I’ve gone from being a novice in the children’s church choir to being the crucifer leading the church service. I have just started confirmation class, and I have been enjoying it. Confirmation is when you confirm your faith in Christ. We are learning about ways to connect with God, and we are also learning more about Christianity. I have some really nice teachers, and really nice classmates who are there to help me on my confirmation journey. In one of our meetings, we talked about things that society wants us to believe. For example, you should listen to specific types of music and wear specific types of clothes. We wrote these on a big sheet of paper… and burned it in a fire. Then, on another sheet of paper, we wrote things that we believe. Things that no one else tells us to believe, but that we choose to believe ourselves. This was a really good exercise to show that we control what we believe, and that you can expand your faith by believing what you want. I know that believing has helped me expand my own faith a lot.

I’m thinking about this now because this week is the 6th anniversary of the shooting at my former school, Sandy Hook Elementary, and the death of my friend Ben. Ben was very close to me, and losing him was really hard. But I think that the experience of the shooting brought me a lot closer to God. When it happened, I began praying to God a lot more often because I felt sad. But God was helping me with what I was going through because he was there for me.

Today Ben reminds me of the character Asriel Dreemurr, a child, from a video game called Undertale. Both of them had a very innocent nature, and they were both very kind and friendly. And the main thing they share is that they were both killed. Recently when I was playing through Undertale, I noticed this connection between Ben and Asriel. I started to cry during Asriel’s speech at the end of the game. It was a sad speech. He died for no reason, like Ben. But I love playing Undertale anyway because I like seeing Ben and so many of my friends in the game’s characters.

Asriel is still a powerful character. Ben was also powerful and he still has the power to be here. Even though he’s gone, I feel his spirit is still here and still determined to make us happy.

And God is always there for me, and I know that he always will be there for me. Whenever I am feeling worried about myself, my family, or any of my friends, praying to God is always helpful because I can always ask him to watch over the person I am praying about. I can always trust God to watch over my friends and family because I know he will always find a way to make things better.

All you have to do is ask him for help. It’s like what Dumbledore says in the film, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, “You will find that help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it.” This is the same with God. You can always ask God for help. I have learned more about talking to God. There is one part of my book where I talk about places that I am able to pray. It explains that you can pray to God wherever you are. You don’t have to be in a church kneeling down at an altar. You can talk to God at your house, at the supermarket, even at a gas station! God is always free to listen to you because he cares about you.

Tain Gregory is a freshman at Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School in New Haven, Connecticut, and co-author with his mother Sophfronia Scott of the book This Child of Faith: Raising a Spiritual Child in a Secular World. He enjoys watching anime, playing video games, and making Minecraft Hacks.

For Advent I from David Bannon

Blessed Advent! We invite all of our readers to enter this holy season with these words from David Bannon, author of Wounded in Spirit: Advent Art and Meditations. As David notes: Some text portions of this article were excerpted and edited from Wounded in Spirit: Advent Art and Meditations, which features ten Rückert poems not printed here. As with those in the book, the Rückert poems in this article are original translations that have never before been published in English.  

“Your hurts, small as a child”
Communion in Friedrich Rückert’s Songs on the Death of Children
Text and translations by David Bannon

Friedrich Rückert was a compassionate man. Visitors often commented on his enthusiasm, whimsy and humor.1 Hailed by The Atlantic Monthly as “the last of the grand old generation of German poets,”2 many of his lieder, or songs, were set to music by the great composers of the day. But for three decades Friedrich hid from view his most personal work.

The day after Christmas 1833, Friedrich’s youngest child, three-year-old Luise, showed symptoms of scarlet fever. She died on New Year’s Eve. His son Ernst died on January 16, twelve days after the boy turned five. Friedrich’s four remaining children survived. He was kind and attentive to them, grateful for each moment, yet his grief for Luise and Ernst was unassuaged. “That I should drink and eat, eat and drink,” he wrote, “forgetting all the while that you are lost to me!”3

Over the first six months of 1834 Friedrich composed hundreds of poems on loss and mourning. “Spare me these delights!” he cried. “They cannot fool my heart, adding grief to grief.”4 He averaged 2–3 poems each day. Some are his finest, others less so; none was intended for publication.5 He kept Luise and Ernst’s pastel portraits with him for the rest of his life.6 Six years after Friedrich’s death, in 1872, his son Heinrich compiled 425 of the poems in Kindertodtenlieder (Songs on the Death of Children).7

Your hurts, small as a child,
you brought to me, mother-like,
for consolation and care.

Now my hurt, not so small,
I bring to you:
Oh my child, console me!

So we exchange love for loss:
a heart full of care;
a hurt inconsolable.8

Friedrich’s life resonates with me. He was a scholar, translator and professor. We both taught college for years; both published on Asia extensively; both translated from Asian and other languages. We both lost children on the same day: his son died on January 16, 1534; my daughter died on January 16, 2015.

Rückert had a gift for understatement and a penchant for allusion. Before my daughter’s death, the depth and breadth of his sorrow would have been beyond my grasp. Now I find communion and solace in his poems. Occasionally I’ll come across a piece that defies literary analysis; that dares me to capture in translation a moment many bereaved parents know well:

Here rests in this chest
much that was yours;
sacred and silent:
like you, undisturbed.

Your dress in this chest,
camisole in your coffin.
Your little shoes
never to remove.

Each day from this chest
I lift dress after dress;
seeking sorrow, perhaps:
or solace or mercy.9

Friedrich chose a double entendre for this poem. Truhe, meaning chest or trunk, is also a word for coffin. It took me a year to finally go through all of my daughter’s things. Her chest is here with me as I type, carefully preserved in my office closet.

Research shows that fathers who have lost adult children are at the highest level of grief for men in every bereavement category except guilt.10 Such comparisons are useful to counselors and medical professionals—may in fact be necessary and helpful—but to the bereaved, they seem obscene. Friedrich’s children were young, my daughter was an adult; he lost two of eight, I lost my only child. A moment’s thought reveals how such measurements lose all meaning. In Rückert’s songs, I stumble through the same dark valley he walked 180 years ago. Friedrich and I share something else: an affinity for the waldesgrund. Literally translated as forest ground or floor, the term is seldom used for a glade or park; only the deep wood:

Deep in the wood
and the rocky valley
my heart and voice cry
a thousand times:
Children, are you there?
Where is here? ‘Here! Here!’

Dark wooded brush
stands between us,
I do not see you;
tell me, are you
far? near?
How near? ‘Near, near!’

Do you want to draw near
from where you are?
Always mine, the one
joy in this pain?
Mine? No? Yes?
Always yes? ‘Yes, yes!’11

Gustav Mahler later set five of Rückert’s poems to music; his Kindertotenlieder premiered in 1905. Gustav’s interpretations are moving but his most profound work was still to come. In 1907 his four- year-old daughter, Putzi, died of diphtheria and scarlet fever. As a musician, Mahler may have appreciated Rückert’s subtle tonality, cadence and repetition. Now in his grief, Gustav knew the harm and hope Friedrich put in each song:

You were the slightest:
are you, then, unharmed?
Your country, that fineness,
are you, so, unspoiled?

Your country, your slightness:
preserved, then, in
such purity, so
preserved and saved?

The slightest, dearly loved;
brightest now, and gone,
radiant once, always:
Will I see you there?12

Mahler’s next composition, Das Lied von der Erde (Song of the Earth), speaks of life, death, parting, and redemption. 13 It was Gustav’s masterpiece.


Some text portions of this article were excerpted and edited from Wounded in Spirit: Advent Art and Meditations, which features ten Rückert poems not printed here. As with those in the book, the Rückert poems in this article are original translations that have never before been published in English.


1 fancy and humor: Bayard Taylor, Critical Essays and Literary Notes (Putnam’s Sons, 1880): 97

2 The last of the grand: Bayard Taylor, “Friedrich Rückert,” Atlantic Monthly, 18(105) (July 1866): 33; collected in The Atlantic Monthly, v18 (Ticknor & Fields, 1866).

3 That I should drink: from “Daß ich trinken soll und essen,” Kindertodtenlieder [Songs on the Death of Children], ed. Heinrich Rückert, trans. D. Bannon (Sauerländer, 1872): 69.

4 Spare me these delights: from “Rathet mir nicht zum Vergnügen,” Rückert, 142.

5 Some are his finest: see Peter Revers, “Kindertotenlieder” in Karen Painter, ed., Mahler and His World, Revers section trans. Irene Zedlacher (Princeton University Press, 2002): 174.

6 pastel portraits: Friedrich had the portraits made in autumn 1833.

7 Six years after: In 1881, after Heinrich’s death, Marie Rückert rearranged 241 of the poems according to Friedrich’s diary in a new edition, Lied und Leid [Song and Sorrow]. See Friedrich Rückert, Gesammelte Poetische Werke, v12, ed. Conrad Beyer (Sauerländer, 1882): 477.

8 Your hurts: “Wie du sonst dein kleines Leid,” Rückert, 173.

9 Here rests: “Hier lieg’ in der Truhe,” Rückert, 279.

10 highest level of grief: William Fish, “Differences of Grief Intensity in Bereaved Parents,” in Therese Rando, ed., Parental Loss of a Child (Research Press, 1986): 223, 417, 426.

11 Deep in the wood: “Tief im Waldesgrund,” Rückert, 206-207.

12 You were the slightest: “Weil ihr wart die Kleinsten,” Rückert, 279-280.

13 Mahler’s four-year-old daughter: Maria Anna, called Putzi, 3 November 1902 – 5 July 1907.