Mother and Child
Do the best things only happen when we pray?
If so, from your lips to God’s ear; only you hear me.
For every Rachael there’s a Leah
For every Lot a wife and daughters
For every Shunamite woman a Shunamite woman
So we sit in the darkest place at the darkest time
Rendering to Caesar our inheritance
Marrying and giving in marriage
Watching sheep and stars by night
And Christ comes when nobody is looking for him
And aside from a flash of light and a slaughter
Nothing in the world changed at all
Rachel wept for her children
Mary feared for her child
And the rest of the children remained enslaved
From the creation of the world is the refrain
How long, O Lord, How long, How long
Two thousand years of birth pangs later
We still aren’t all that sure
It hasn’t actually been a miscarriage
But the shepherds and the blind and the dead
Who weren’t or couldn’t be watching
Somehow saw and heard and awoke
It wasn’t what they were expecting
But they came and prayed and were healed
Mary was the one expecting, great with child
And unexpectedly as always her child died
Not everyone is childless who is barren
A sword pierces every mother’s heart
And makes it wider than the heavens
And every burning passion for an absent child
Is a prayer that can only be answered
By a mother whose child gives up his life
So that all those dead will eternally live
And every mother and child will be iconic
- There’s enough stuff in here to warrant some explication for a change. This is a poem destined for a recent blog I’ve started, His Bright Crown, which is specifically my reactions to miscarriage and infant death. Besides the 5 miscarriages we have had, those close to me have had a number, as well as early infant deaths, and even loss of adoptive children. I’m not an emotional person, so I wind up internalizing them by writing – words are my pictures, my feelings, my way of dealing with the things that make sense only when they become a part of a larger whole.
This most recent miscarriage (the day before Thanksgiving) was at 19 weeks, a girl, with nothing apparently wrong except the tube that should have been feeding her was choking her instead. Both of us are 45 years old – grandparent age, with our youngest at 12 – and had given up expecting more children of our own. Just before pregnancy, of course. Now that was all turned on its head yet again, and almost as quickly thrown down and broken. A loss of expectancy at Nativity is more cruelty than irony.
You can read my reactions on the blog linked above. My wife, on the other hand, is having a difficult time, as something like this calls into question all of life, and all of The Life. As an inveterate questioner myself who has learned not to expect any final answers, I’m afraid I’m not much help. But I can at least try to think through her questions myself, and do what comes naturally for me, as I’ve done again here. This poem began with the question, “What difference does it make if we pray?”
Naturally, I think immediately of all those in the Scriptures who asked God for things: Hannah, David, Sarah, Abraham, etc, many of whom received their requests. But so many didn’t, too, and we don’t talk about them so much without having a pat answer ready and moving on to those “victorious” in prayer. People still lost families and children, things they had prayed desperately for. And this leaves them, and us, in the darkest places in our lives, much like the prophet refers to when he speaks of the “people who sat in darkness”, but we have received no light at all. And when the promise does come, we are no longer looking for what is to come, only what has so suddenly gone.
And like the coming of Christ, little brightnesses often seem to simply emphasize our darkness. A child loss to us slaughters every other child for us, because at any moment a child full of joy may only be seen as the child that will never be full of joy here, not with us. For every Emmanuel there’s a soldier of Herod slaughtering our innocence. What we expected is all we seem capable of looking for.
There were just two old people, and a celibate father, and a virgin mother expecting Christ when he came, and even 33 years later his death was unexpected. The death of a child lays waste the garden of the soul, as plowshares are turned into swords. I don’t have any answers from this, but I know the Mother of Life had the life ripped out of her, and someday the image of her that we kiss every time we enter the temple will be the image of every mother with every child she has lost, and every lost child will somehow be her salvation.