Birth

Prayer for a New Mother

The things she knew, let her forget again-
The voices in the sky, the fear, the cold,
The gaping shepherds, and the queer old men
Piling their clumsy gifts of foreign gold.

Let her have laughter with her little one;
Teach her the endless, tuneless songs to sing,
Grant her her right to whisper to her son
The foolish names one dare not call a king.

Keep from her dreams the rumble of a crowd,
The smell of rough-cut wood, the trail of red,
The thick and chilly whiteness of the shroud
That wraps the strange new body of the dead.

Ah, let her go, kind Lord, where mothers go
And boast his pretty words and ways, and plan
The proud and happy years that they shall know
Together, when her son is grown a man.

     — Dorothy Parker 

Dorothy Parker

Dorothy Parker

It seems ironic to me that during the month that most Christians and many others are in fever pitch celebration mode for Christmas, so little attention is paid to the central action in this mythical story. There is said to have been a birth.

Unlike in the era of the myth, many fewer of these births are among teen mothers. Still, about 250,000 babies are born to teens in the U.S. each year. About one in eight of these teen births is the result of rape. Amazing efforts have been made in Milwaukee and elsewhere to drive down the percentage of births to teens among the nearly 4,000,000 births in the U.S. each year.

gary-age-2-and-walter-dziadoszI was raised in a Catholic household near a Catholic Church during a period when both the romance and the horrors of Bible stories were drilled into little children. The mysteries of the terrifying annunciation, the lonely, unsanitary nativity, and confusing visitation of kings were as fascinating to us as the detailed accounts of fleeing Herod, gory circumcision, and infanticide.

But even those stories didn’t prepare us for the realities of today. By accounts from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – accounts disputed by other experts because they are viewed as far too conservative estimates – 18% of these newborns will be maltreated in their childhood. 700,000 of those sweet children that are celebrated each winter will suffer neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, psychological maltreatment, medical neglect, and abandonment.

As in the holiday myth, the horrors of childhood – while not unique to any one group – are still highly concentrated among people who are poor, vulnerable, and living in unsafe circumstances. We have learned over time that both the victims and perpetrators of child abuse share the risks and consequences associated with intimate partner violence, sexual violence, gang violence, and child maltreatment. For example, youth with histories of abuse and neglect, teens who are homeless, and others searching for a better life are more likely to be exploited by sex traffickers. The perpetrators of this trafficking often come from the same circumstances.

There are also each week the thousands of parents of Black and Brown children, particularly parents of boys, who must warn them of the need to manage the rage of those who are designated to keep the peace. They teach their children to have subdued responses to unreasonable stops and searches, caution them even to keep their hands visible, their tone modulated, their eyes averted.

image1It seems to me that messages of this holiday’s myth have been wiped clean through commercial gain. There is no attention paid to the straw bed, the barn yard and dung, or the auditory and visual hallucinations. Who attends to the humiliation, terror, fatigue, regret, forced evacuation, or military incursion?

Then. Or now.

2 thoughts on “Birth

  1. The fact that you’re standing in front of the Cathedral is not lost on me!

    I’ve been looking forward to reading this all day (since I woke up at the crack of 4:30 pm)… and it was a treat for sure!

    I’ve been listening this week to MPR’s yearly special, “Advent Voices.” I’m finding that this year, I’m able to actually listen to some religious music – a major step forward for me. One of the lovely pieces they chose to feature this year is Victoria’s “O Magnum Mysterium…” with it’s magnificent line: “that animals should see the newborn Lord, lying in a manger.” The liturgical line calls it (you likely remember) a great mystery and a sacrament.

    Where does the newborn Lord come? To Whitefish Bay or Edina? To the beautiful old apartments of Loring Park or the Lower East Side? To the trendy Brady Street or Northeast Minneapolis? To the financial hub of Water and Wisconsin, or to the big three skyscrapers off of sixth street? The sacrament – the touch of the god to earth, comes to poor Mary and Joseph, and to animals, and to third-shift shepherds. And with its incessant drive to spiritualize everything, Christianity makes it comfortable for people to spritualize themselves into poverty, while living in a mansion on Lake Michigan or Lake Calhoun. Almost no one at Midnight Mass or at Oxford’s Lessons and Carols would have been part of the magnum mysterium, the admirable sacramentum. They are excluded in the stories. It’s the poor, the despised, and animals. The untouchables. The people who call 911 because they have no where else to turn for the things people like me go to a doctor, or a therapist, or the gym, or to work for. For all their talk about the poor, the Christians tend to think there’s something deficient about the poor, yet worship a poor god, pray to his poor mother. They vote for a Donald Trump, but pray to a bankrupt carpenter. Were I to believe in the child, and were I to be a preacher, I would have a rather uncomfortable message for my flock (I mean that literally)… God is not here, I’d say, on this safe side of the river/freeway. He’s over there, west of I-43. He’s over there, north of 394. But none of you will go over there to them. So you will miss out on the magnum mysterium. You will not experience the admirabile sacramentum. You have your Trump and your lives mattering and your comfortable lives and homes, and begrudge others the smallest gesture of help. You would not even give the holy family your barns, because you’d be afraid they’d take your animals. Go home. You are the untouchables, because you wouldn’t touch people like Joseph and Mary and Jesus.

    Ah well… I’ve discerned that the Truth of religious folklore is far more uncomfortable than the truths of religious instruction. Truth is far less comfortable to face.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “They vote for Donald Trump, but pray to a bankrupt carpenter.”

    “The Truth of religious folklore is far more uncomfortable than the truths of religious instruction.”

    Gold!

    (And frankincense and myrrh).

    Like

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