From The Irrational Season
Holy Innocents’ Day is a stumbling block for me. This is a festival? This remembering the slaughter of all those babies under two years of age whose only wrong was to have been born at a time when three Wise Men came out of the East to worship a great King; and Herod, in panic lest his Earthly power be taken away from him by this unknown infant potentate, ordered the execution of all the children who might grow up to dethrone him.
Jesus grew up to heal and preach at the expense of all those little ones, and I have sometimes wondered if his loving gentleness with small children may not have had something to do with this incredible price. And it causes me to ask painful questions about the love of God. Saint Catherine of Siena said, “Nails were not enough to hold God-and-man nailed and fastened on the cross, had not love kept him there.” What kind of love was that? More like folly. All the disciples except John had abandoned him. His mother was there and a few women as usual, and a gaping mob, also as usual, and some jeering soldiers. That’s all. The cross represented the failure of his Earthly mission. God came to the world and the world didn’t want him and threw him out by crucifying him like a common criminal. God – God the Father – loved the world he had created so much that he sent his only son – that spoken Word who called forth something from nothing, galaxies from chaos – he sent him to dwell in human flesh, to accept all Earthly limitations, to confine himself in mortal time; and when this beloved son begged in agony that he might be spared the cross, what did the Father do? No thunderbolts, no lightning flash. Silence was the answer to the prayer. No was the answer. And Jesus of Nazareth died in agony on the cross; the love of God echoing back into the silence of God.
That is love? How can we understand it? Do we even want it? I sometimes get very angry at God, and I do not feel guilty about it, because the anger is an affirmation of faith. You cannot get angry at someone who is not there. So the raging is for me a necessary step toward accepting that God’s way of loving is more real than man’s, that this irrational, seemingly unsuccessful love is what it’s all about, is what created the galaxies, is what keeps the stars in their courses, is what gives all life value and meaning.
But what kind of meaning? It’s not a meaning that makes any sense in a world geared to success and self-fulfillment.
Remember the children in the school bus hit by a train? Remember the Vietnamese orphans dying in a flaming plane? What about all the holy innocents throughout time?
God has a strange way of loving; it is not our way, but I find evidence in my own experience that it is better than our way, and that it leads to fuller life, and to extraordinary joy.
Because I am a writer I live by symbol, and because I was born in the Western World my symbolism is largely Judaeo-Christian, and I find it valid, and the symbol which gives me most strength is that of bread and wine. Through the darkness of my uncomprehending, through my pain and weakness, only thus may I try to become open to God’s love as I move to the altar to receive the body and blood, and accept with friend and neighbor, foe and stranger, the tangible assurance that this love is real. It is real, but it is not like our love.
If the dark prophets who infuriated the people of the Establishment in their own day have anything to say to me today, it is through their constant emphasizing that God is so free of his own people who are able to be free of the very establishments which are formed in his name. For these establishments inevitably begin to institutionalize God’s love and then he teaches us (put my tears in your bottle) what love really is – not our love, not what we want God’s love to be, but God’s love.