Sunday, 29 December 2013

'there are children here somewhere, I can smell them'

'A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, 
Rachel weeping for her children; 
she refused to be consoled, for they are no more.' Mt 2:18

The Sunday immediately following Christmas is, if following the Revised Common Lectionary at least, a somewhat delicate and tricky matter.  Unless opting for a service of Lessons and Carols [good call for the exhausted preacher - and what we did at Parish by the Sea] we move from the hope of the Christ child to the horror of Holy Innocents.  It's a time when we remember Herod's decree to slaughter all male children under two years of age; this upon hearing of the birth of a new King of the Jews. 

I got to wondering about this particular 'terrible text' of the bible after reading a statement by a friend on facebook about the Feast of the Holy Innocents. Quite frankly, I really struggled with the content - or, perhaps, more correctly, where that content took me in my own thoughts through no actual fault of my friend.  Perhaps, given the subject matter, struggle is the only appropriate response.  The trigger prompting my move beyond what friend has posted was something along the lines of remembering 'all such children for whom their Creator was jealous, who are now at home with Him...'  

Initially, it was the word 'jealous'; an odd word to use and yet utterly Old Testament biblical.  But it set me off thinking about responses by people in cases where a child, or children, die; of comments made to help console friends or strangers in their grief:          

'God must have needed another angel in heaven'
'God looked at all the wee ones in the world and chose yours'

or the dire poem that contains the following:

'Perhaps God tires of calling the aged to his fold,
So he picks a rosebud, before it can grow old.
God knows how much we need them, and so he takes but few
To make the land of Heaven more beautiful to view.'
          etc. etc. etc.

Beyond a theology concerning angels - angelology, if you will - and of what Christians believe happens when they die, which is not to be transformed into an angel but rather, the resurrection of the body [we don't change species / I'm thinking here of the Apostles Creed], I wonder at this understanding of a God who is not unlike a divine version of the Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: 'there are children here somewhere, I can smell them.'  

How do we balance theological understandings concerning our image of God and our beliefs around what happens when we die with providing a helpful and appropriate pastoral response to those who are in the midst of grieving the loss of a child?  Personally, God walking with folk in the place of pain is more comfort to me than the thought that God decided he needed another wee soul in heaven to brighten it up [what kind of cruel and capricious God does that?]...some folk, on the other hand, apparently derive comfort from this [here perhaps seeing God's particular care and a way to make meaning out of death].  How best to minister to folk who hold a viewpoint that may be very much at odds with one's own?  Lots to chew on - this is only the beginning of a conversation.  I think I wanted to post while it was still fresh!


Mary Beth said...

I think it's what you said...people trying to make meaning out of death of little ones. But it's hideous and horrible and wrong. I got nothing else, except that I've always been terrified of that part in CCBB. :P Thanks for the thoughts!

Mrs Gerbil said...

When I was involved in the funeral of a close friend's child, most of the poems etc I found concerning God wanting a 'new angel' very unhelpful. I knew this was not the right word for my friends - nor those who were supporting them in their grief, including me.

I also think theologically they are totally wrong, but should I ever have to be involved in a simialr funeral again (which would be too soon) I would use them if I thought they would bring comfort to that family.

Some things are shades of grey and not black and white.

Anonymous said...

I am reading this on a day when the news from South Sudan is horrific- as was teh slaughter of the innocents. While a "jealous" God is certainly an OT concept, the God who is jealous for our worship (not worshipping other gods is right up there on the list!) the children in Bethlehem and surrounding areas were not slaughtered because God was jealous- it was the fearful and jealous herod who ordered that- God was weeping with Rachel for her children. I did my cpe internship/residency in a neo-natal intensive care unit- people assign meaning in many, different ways- i always felt like my task was to support them where they were, but to also always remind them that God was with them, even in this valley of suffering. Christ came into the world with an insane despot, death of innocents, and terrible suffering. God entered into our human life, no matter how terrible it is.

Nik said...

Thanks for your thoughts folks.
Anon - I think your comment re. 'jealous' re. God and worship, and a jealous Herod is an excellent one...thanks for that.
Mrs G - with you on the shades of grey.
Mary Beth... 'CCBB'?? I may be being a little slow on the acronym here...what is it? I may 'face/palm' when you tell me the probably blindingly obvious answer!! :D

Mary Beth said...

Sorry, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang!

Nik said...


ahhh - yeah, well it's good for my humility to miss the blindingly obvious!! Thanks MB, lol!!