Dedicated to all the children of this world who will be lost to us. Most especially, as we grow soul-weary of the death of the innocents, to the memory of:
Tyshawn Lee – 9 years old. Chicago. Dead by gang assassination. Laquan McDonald – 17 years old. Chicago. Dead by Police.
At the beginning of Advent, December of 1971, a young black boy, Charles Hale, disappeared in St. Louis, Missouri. Days went by as the search for this child continued. After more than a week (as I recollect the timing), his body was found in the ruins of a deserted building on the Northside of the city. And “Advent” was electric in my mind. How did “wise men” long ago go in search of a child who would be the deliverance from sin and bondage, for the world; and we here and now are searching for yet another young black child who was the promise of his family and became a light snuffed out in a time of cold and darkness? No, it was not a case of “How can God permit the death of a child?” that pierced my mind. It was the pattern of death that had even then been beating a rhythm of death in this world where children are made into objects, where they suffer hunger, abuse, neglect, torture and violence. How much more before our very minds are choked by the death of children? How do we live, in a world where children, by the millions, seem born to be discarded while the adults around them either suffer the chaos of war and poverty or use that suffering to feed some self-justifying addiction to dominance and power?
It is not, nor has it ever been, God who permits the death of children. The true revelation of Christmas was that God was the Child who was born homeless; who became a refugee from state-sponsored holocaust; who grew to be labeled a criminal and a subversive, and was branded a terrorist, tortured in the fortress of an occupying army and publicly executed, in exchange for the life of a committed terrorist. And do we learn? Have we learned? Are we capable of learning?
Deliver Into Us
St. Louis, 1971. The Search for Charles Hale
first in rain then snow through the fire-
chewed ruins of the northside deserted by
everything but cold rotting air
city volunteers hunt for a missing child
us informed to nothing definite the news reports
feed our strained hope with some slight signs
and each night the ageless silence
that is always with us scratches our minds
like a desert wind and we like forgotten
nomads scattered in some dark countryside crawl
close and cling to whatever light we have
with this the listening city stirs before it
sleeps waiting restless without peace
distracted and caught in time
until this child
is found declared seen or delivered into us
(In, The Sun Whispers, Wait, Brown Turtle Press, p. 70)
Not only Herod’s soldiers seek out the infants to slaughter, performing the same purging of the innocent as that performed by Pharaoh’s army in the time of Moses. Will we ever realize that all children are “the Hebrew children” today? The Sudanese, Somalian, Ecuadorian, Mexican, Lakota, Syrian, Iraqi, Libyan, Nigerian, Philippine, Puerto Rican children, and their sisters and brothers found in alleys and trash bins and boxes and basements and abandoned cars and ditches of the United States. They and all the others whose cries will never be heard except by those who held them, are stronger than any host of angels singing, “Peace on Earth to those of good will…”
That is the chorus that must be attended to.
And it is not a song of peace. It is a song of warning. “Visit war and death on us”, they are whispering into our dream-state, “and those who survive the slaughter will haunt your days and nights. Baptized in terror and suckled on the poisons of power and greed and disdain, those who survive our death will never be at peace – not until the world bows down in grief at the places where we children lay.”
The ritual of birth must be reversed, even as the poem about Charles Hale intuited: the spirits of these children must find shelter in the manger we prepare in our hearts. Even – most especially – they must find a place where they can be reverenced and caressed and anointed with the tears of those who survive.
What gifts do we bring to the children who cry to us?
Only our hearts. Our minds. Our souls. Our strength. Our hearts. Our minds. Our determination to lift them up so that the world can look upon those they have pierced and see them for who they truly could have been.
We are bound to (carry) them.