Saturday, December 15, 2012

Holy Innocents Transposed: …Rachel is weeping for her children. (Part I)

A voice is heard in Ramah,
lamentation and bitter weeping.
Rachel is weeping for her children;
she refuses to be comforted for her children,
because they are no more.’
(Jeremiah 31:15)

A savage backdrop…..

It appears that the Feast of the Holy Innocents has arrived early this year. Ordinarily celebrated on Dec. 28 on the church calendar, a morbid caricature of Herod’s massacre of the children of Judea unfolded Friday on televisions in America’s living rooms, bars and on office computer monitors.

Amidst the elation of graduation parties and the clicks of wineglasses amidst sighs of relief from battered and exhausted Philosophy Department colleagues at term’s end, a savage backdrop to those festivities played out as the day progressed. The news from Newtown, Connecticut was grim indeed. Twenty children shot dead at an elementary school, another seven adults, some of them teachers shielding their students from harm, also dead. The dead included the 20 year old gunman and his mother.

As the images from Newtown began a predictable throbbing repetition on news channels seeking to whipping up even more frenzy on this already frenzied day, one image in particular struck me. It captured a young woman holding her cell phone, clearly terrified at the news of the shootings, as she awaited news of who the victims included. The terror on her face over her potential loss of loved ones, coupled with the stunned incomprehensibility that most Americans experienced yesterday, was palpable. 

(Photo from Here and Now site, NPR)

I felt sick to my stomach as her image appeared over and over on the ubiquitous televisions in the restaurant where the graduation party I was attending was held.  Eerily, the image seemed somehow familiar to me. Where do I know that image from?  As the night went on, it dawned on me where I had seen it before.

Rachel is weeping for her children

Pablo Picasso left to humanity a grim record of history’s first air raid, the Luftwaffe bombing of a town in a Spain rocked by civil war. The four hours of bombing leveled the town at the behest of the fascist forces led by Generalismo Franco.  Of course, the Nazis, like any operators of a technopoly, were only too eager to try out their new technological toys. And Franco was more than willing to violate the categorical imperative in good Machiavellian style using the lives of the people of Guernica as the means to send a deadly message to anyone who would oppose his Fascist regime.

Picasso’s artistic contribution to the 1937 World’s Fair in Paris on behalf of Spain provided a graphic account of what happened in Guernica that day in his masterpiece named for the unfortunate town. And therein lay the archetypal image I was seeing.

 (Image from Oracle Think Quest site)

On the far left side of the painting, a woman stands holding a dead child, face racked with uncontrollable sorrow, turned to the sky accusingly. When I teach the unit on Guernica, I inevitably refer to the verse from Jeremiah’s account of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians.

Rachel is weeping for her children;

she refuses to be comforted for her children,

because they are no more.’

Picasso captured this mother’s lamentation exquisitely. The abandon in the woman’s face reflects a deeply wounded soul. When combined with the limp, cold body of her child dangling at her breasts, Picasso powerfully and unavoidably confronts us with the worst suffering humans know – the death of a child before its parent.

Picasso initially designed this part of his work to reflect the Virgin Mary holding the dead body of her crucified son, Jesus. It inevitably brings back memories of my visit to the Pieta in St. Peter’s Basilica. As I stood in the crowd milling in front of that exquisite sculpture, out of the corner of my eye I spotted a woman weeping at the mere sight of Michelangelo’s very moving work. As I turned to look at the woman, I realized it was my own mother I was observing who was weeping. I still get a lump in my throat when I recall that day.

Picasso, Michelangelo and my mother were all very clear in their unbidden responses to this reality depicted here: This is simply not how it’s supposed to be. This is not the order of a world that makes any sense to human beings. Indeed, this is not a world worth living in.

And yet, it is our world.

In today’s ongoing coverage, a new image has emerged which captures this agony of the surviving parent perhaps more graphically than any I’ve seen. Unlike Picasso and Michelangelo’s vision, it is not the mother whose grief is the focus of the depiction. Rather it is her husband who reflects the Picasso archetype, the father now without a child, looking to the sky accusingly, an agony on his face that defies comforting. 

 (Photo from Reuters Full Focus site)

I weep as I look at these photos. Indeed, I’ve had to intentionally pull myself away from these hauntingly seductive images more than once today to retain any sense of balance. It is easy to lapse into complete despair in the light of this event.  

But the reality is unavoidable. Rachel is weeping for her children. And many of us weep with her this day, for our children, for our countrymen and women, for our very nation which seems unable to extract itself from this deadly addiction to the weapons of war. 


The Rev. Harry Scott Coverston, J.D., Ph.D.
Member, Florida Bar (inactive status)
Priest, Episcopal Church (Dio. of El Camino Real, CA)
Instructor: Humanities, Religion, Philosophy of Law
University of Central Florida, Orlando
 If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.
Most things of value do not lend themselves to production in sound bytes. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

1 comment:

Carole Anne said...

My tears are making it hard to type... Your agony and mine blend and merge with Picasso, who truly painted agony and we all weep. I am particularly sorrow filled as my partner for life, my beloved Linwood, has died and all I want to do is go to be with him.
Bless you dear Harry for all the comfort you have given me for so many years. Many hugs, Carole Anne