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Bethlehem, c. 2 B.C.
Of all my children, this one loves me the most. He gently holds my face in his pudgy toddler hands and strokes my cheeks. “I love you, immah,” he murmurs. In the reflection of his eyes I see myself smiling. Sometimes I wonder—who is the parent, and who is the child?
On that day we do all the normal things—cook, eat, laugh, pray, bank the fire, and huddle together for warmth as we sleep. The night is cold in the desert.
Some say love is a burning thing, that it makes a fiery ring.
I wake in the night, disoriented. Strange sounds reverberate through the cold air, amplifying confusion. Then sound separates into sense and I hear the pounding of feet, the screaming of women, the shouting of men. Whatever this is, I know that there is no escape now.
Yeah, I saw love. It disfigured me.
What I saw then cannot be described. It cannot be erased. It can only be lived—over and over again. Waking and sleeping, in my dreams, in my body, in every version of my future and every moment of my present and every memory of my past.
I will not open myself up this way again.
A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and mourning. It is my voice—weeping for my child and refusing to be comforted, because the little boy who loved me above all others, the little one with the small hands and the infinite heart, he is no more.
You will not see me fall, see me struggle to stand.
But the other children need me. Life must be lived. And so I build the fire, and cook, and mend clothes, and do the things that must be done.
But I do not pray.
I’m racing out on the desert plains all night.
In the silence of my thoughts I am a woman enraged by grief. We are a village of quiet, wild women—we tear at our hearts until they bleed, we shout at the night with mute, despairing cries until the stars fall down and the trees bow to earth and the rocks groan with our pain.
We shame the universe with our anguish.
If Christmas means that the Christ-child is born in our hearts anew every year, then it also means that the Innocents are murdered again, every year. Herod’s soldiers, all over the world and on both sides of every civil war, do their bloody work efficiently, with suitable justification and rational cause and technological precision—officially sanctioned or diplomatically ignored by the global community, it doesn’t matter, the result is the same.
Or rather, it does matter.
It matters in every time and in every place, in every nation and for every child. It matters infinitely, sacrificially, expansively, personally.
Oh, but I know love as a fading thing. Just as fickle as a feather in a stream. Just a killer come to call from some awful dream.
You feel love as a fading thing sometimes, I know. You wonder what can be done in the face of these horrors, these tragedies. You grow weary of caring. You begin to not pay attention.
But love is fierce, and it hurts. It burns our fingers, it wounds our hearts, it dismembers us until the only way we can be re-membered is to find ourselves in God.
I am not naïve. We simply do not know enough about the complicated political situation in Syria to know how to assign blame for the refugee crisis, much less how to remedy it. It may be that we will never fully know. Still, while I don’t know what should be done about Aleppo this Christmas, and while I’m not an expert on Syrian politics, here is what I do know:
I have a few words, words I place here. I have three children of my own to love and hug. I have a few extra dollars to donate. And I can let my Self be consumed by the Love who sustains all things, who reconciles all things, who restores all things, and who sees no enemies—even those who claim to be Love’s enemies.
Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth,
goodwill toward all
men, women, and children.
Photo: In Aleppo, Syria, four-year-old Esraa and her brother Waleed, three, sit on the ground near a shelter for internally displaced persons. UNICEF/UN013175/Al-Issa (file photo)
The little boy calls his mother immah, Aramaic for “mother.” Aramaic was the common language in Syria before Arabic gained ascendancy, and it is still spoken by some Syriac Christians. It is also the language in which Christ’s words are recorded in the New Testament.
Scholars debate the historicity of the Gospel of Matthew’s account of the Massacre of the Innocents by King Herod. Josephus, for example, does not mention the atrocity. But the factuality of the event seems irrelevant to me. The deep truth at the heart of this story—that Power in all its forms is threatened by and will attempt to destroy a Love that negates all power—is a truth we see every day. Whether in Bethlehem, or Aleppo, or our own hearts.
Written under the inspiration of “Song for Zula” by Phosphorescent.
Sarina Gruver Moore teaches English literature and writing at Grove City College in Grove City, Pennsylvania.