“The Holy Innocents”

Herod, king when Jesus was born, is told by wise men from the East that there is a child born king of the Jews whose star they have been following.  To eliminate the threat this child poses, King Herod has all boys under age two killed.  But Jesus escapes because Joseph had been warned in a dream to take his family to Egypt.

This story has many parallels with the story of Moses, who led the Hebrew people out of slavery in Egypt, and points to Jesus as a new liberator.  But the story also kicks up some deep and perplexing questions.  What about all those children who were killed, and what about their families?  Why weren’t they saved?  Where was God?  Did God abandon them?

How can I say that God healed me when so many people are not healed?  Does God listen?  Does God really intervene?  Does God play favorites?  Can God be trusted?  Do these hard things mean that God doesn’t exist, or that God doesn’t care?

This Bible story doesn’t give answers to these questions but it does point.  In the gospel story, the death of the children does not go ignored.  Matthew includes a very powerful quotation from Jeremiah about Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be consoled.  The death of children did not and does not go unheard.  In the Roman Catholic Church there is a feast day on December 28 memorializing Herod’s victims—the feast of the Holy Innocents.

When children are killed today, there is outcry.  On September 15, 1963, four school-age African-American girls were killed in a bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama.  People knew this was wrong.  It became a turning point in the Civil Rights Movement, and it contributed to support for passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.  When on December 14, 2012, twenty children were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School, a pall lay over the country.   Their story is not forgotten.

What I particularly value is that Matthew’s account makes clear that the God the Bible talks about is not one who prevents bad things from happening even to people who love God.  God intervenes in human lives but not always and not predictably.  God is mystery; God’s ways are beyond our human comprehension.  What I know experientially is that God is, God acts, God communicates, and God is available—regardless of outward circumstances.

Queries:

Under what circumstances have you questioned God?  What is it to trust God?

What groups of young people suffering call for your care?

Prayer:

You who are beyond our comprehension but not beyond caring, help us notice the children who are being wounded by the circumstances of our world and let us be heard wailing and in loud lamentation.

For further reference:

“Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we.  Come, let us deal shrewdly with them. . . . (See Exodus 1: 8 – 2: 10).

“When Jesus went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick” (See Matthew 14: 13-21).

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“Trust in the Lord”

When I began the practice of Centering Prayer, the teacher explained that the prayer reflects an intention to consent to the presence and action of God in one’s life. To further explain what we were doing he used the words of Mary when she is told that she is to give birth to a child conceived by the Holy Spirit—“Let it be to me according to Your will.” To say those words—what trust!

They immediately kicked up my distrust. What might God ask of me? What might God do to me? How can I give up control of my life, and why would I want to? Who is God? I thought I believed that God is love. After all, I was taking time to learn to pray in this new way, wasn’t I? And yet . . . I wasn’t certain. I wrestled.

What does it mean to trust in God? It certainly isn’t being passive and letting whatever happens happen. What is God like? I already know that sickness, diminishments, and death are coming. Can I trust God with my life? But if I’m not trusting in God, in whom am I trusting? If I’m trusting in me, how good a bet is that? If I’m trusting in someone else, how safe is that? We are always letting one another down, even those we love the most.

Over the years I have been enabled to trust God at deeper and deeper levels. I do know a felt sense of living in that trust and the peace that comes with it. And yet, even so I find myself over and over acting as if the story depends only on me. “Trust in the Lord, rest in the Lord, abide in the Lord” is a beautiful, chant-like song that Conservative Friend Deborah Shaw taught to a group of which I was a part. The song was simple, but what it invites us to do doesn’t come easy.

Queries:

Where do you place your trust? What stories can you tell of your trust being betrayed or upheld?

What are your questions?

Prayer:

God, hear our prayer. Lord, have mercy.

For further reflection:

Read the story of the healing of Namaan the leper in II Kings 5: 1-14.

“My strength fails because of my misery, and my bones waste away . . . But I trust in you, O Lord.” (See Psalm 31: 9-24.)

Believe?

There is much in Christianity that causes people to think that what they believe is important—the liturgical recitation of a creed, the interpretation of verses such as John 3:16 (whoever believes in Jesus will have eternal life), and the current individualistic expression of the faith. Some stumble when it comes to believing in God; others, believing in doctrines such as the virgin birth and the resurrection; and others, believing in the value of the Bible. Many people interested in Quakerism pull away because they can’t fully believe in pacifism.

To focus on whether one believes this or that is to miss what the faith is about. It is about a relationship with God—Mystery, Guide, Inward Teacher, Love, Source of Life. This relationship is bigger than oneself and, by definition, cannot be fully comprehended.   Believing as we understand the word is a misleading approach because it is intellectual, heady, not of the heart.

Bible stories are about people who have encounters with the divine in relationship. They are not about people who believe certain things, which then connect them to God. I love the story in Luke 8 when Jesus is in the boat with the disciples and an intense storm comes up so that the boat is sinking. When Jesus calms the storm, the awed response of his disciples is “who is this who calms the wind and the waves?” Beliefs are not what the disciples are looking for. The truth of this story—and the stories of the virgin birth and the resurrection—comes through being revealed, not through a belief system and the scientific mind’s intellectual assent to the stories.

Faith is about seeing things, experiencing relationship, asking questions. To have faith is to make a choice to jump into a particular stream, to take on a story as one’s own, to ready oneself to learn from the Inward Teacher—and not other options. I have found that even if only 51% of me can make that leap, that will do. Consent to the journey, and then see what you will be taught.

Queries:

How have your beliefs changed over your lifetime?

In whom are you putting your heart and trust? What story can you recall about a time when you were taught by One not controlled by your own ideas?

Prayer:

Listen to music that touches your soul. Or take a walk in nature, gradually quieting inside, being fully present to what is around you.

For further reflection:

“Who is this . . .?” (See Luke 8: 22-25).

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight” (See Proverbs 3: 5-8).