Feast of the Holy Innocents

A few days ago I held a baby in my arms. I felt my heart shaped and molded into a vessel of love and compassion. I imagined the birth of the Holy Child, the softening of hardened hearts, the world transformed by Christ’s coming.

And then … I remembered the world in which we live: the homeless, the poor, the sick, the vulnerable ones who barely have enough to survive. I remembered those with power, whose hearts never seem to soften.

And today we observe The Feast of the Holy Innocents. When King Herod ordered the murder of all the children in Bethlehem so that he could hold on to his power.

When Herod knew the magi had fooled him, he grew very angry. He sent soldiers to kill all the children in Bethlehem and in all the surrounding territory who were two years old and younger, according to the time that he had learned from the magi. This fulfilled the word spoken through Jeremiah the prophet:

A voice was heard in Ramah,
weeping and much grieving.
Rachel weeping for her children,
and she did not want to be comforted,
because they were no more.
Matthew 2:16–18

I don’t know what to do with this story, with this world, with the situation in which we find ourselves. I seek wisdom and hope in the midst of it all; and I turn wise ones in various traditions (see the readings below). Where do you turn? What do you pray for? What are you reading?

If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of [their] own heart?
– Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
The Gulag Archipelago

Rather than original sin, there’s original soft spot. The messy stuff that we see in ourselves and that we perceive in the world as violence and cruelty and fear is not the result of some basic badness but of the fact that we have such a tender, vulnerable, warm heart of bodhichitta [a felt need to replace others’ suffering with bliss], which we instinctively protect so that nothing will touch it.
– Pema Chödrön
Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living

“You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you that you must not oppose those who want to hurt you. If people slap you on your right cheek, you must turn the left cheek to them as well. When they wish to haul you to court and take your shirt, let them have your coat too. When they force you to go one mile, go with them two. Give to those who ask, and don’t refuse those who wish to borrow from you.”
-Jesus, Matthew 5:38-41, CEB

I would not look upon anger as something foreign to me that I have to fight… I have to deal with my anger with care, with love, with tenderness, with nonviolence.
– Thich Nhat Hanh, Being Peace

6 thoughts on “Feast of the Holy Innocents”

  1. The Solzhenitsyn quote reminds me of a story I once heard. A Sunday School teacher asked a little girl, “If good people were green and bad people were orange, what color would you be?” After she thought awhile, the little girl said, “I’d be streaky.” Wouldn’t we all! Good and evil are rarely clearly separated, even in our own hearts. And so we pray, “Lord, have mercy.”

  2. Beth, Thank you for being this voice “crying in the wilderness”. Write more…about what shaped your soft spot so we can create that in future generations. It is not easy to imagine that prayer, contemplation, fellowship, and arts can compete with the allure of violence and empty sexuality often portrayed in music and media. How do we build a culture where love, faith and hope are more valuable and important? I think there is a hunger for stimulating experiences, and that is often not connected to God or spirituality. What needs to change, Beth? The bankruptcy of these times can either push us away or toward deeper meaning. How do those of us who feel the desire for our nation to reclaim the basic human compassion move in that direction without offending and judging others?

    1. Karen, you have written such richness. I so wish this could be a conversation over a cup of coffee rather than typed on a keyboard. I wonder if this is part of our challenge – that we are separated by screens, that we less often have those face to face conversations. I like your statement, “The bankruptcy of these times can either push us away or toward deeper meaning.” I pray it is toward deeper meaning. I have been thinking a lot about the “soft spots” and the observation that there is a soft spot within every person. I’ve been wondering about those I perceive (and judge) as hard-hearted and where their soft spot might be. Thank you, my friend, for this conversation. Love to you.

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