Thursday, December 27, 2007


The Feast of the Holy Innocents reminds us that there is a physics of Good and Evil. In nature, every action has its equal and opposite reaction. The moral calculus may not be exactly the same, but the vectors are identical.

The Gospel reading for the last Sunday in Ordinary Time was about the crucifixion. It came like a gut punch, deflating the eager anticipation of the time of anticipation: implicit in the birth of the most innocent and perfect, God-incarnating human was His grisly death.

Even if Herod's slaughter of the innocents is not historical, the truth of it remains untouchable. Power stops at nothing to preserve itself. It is a law of nature to which the world continually testifies. One tiny infant -- displaced, poor, born in a wretched stall -- so profoundly threatened the established order that all infants had to be slain.

Collateral damage, they say, slaughtering language itself.

We went to the movies yesterday and saw Sweeney Todd. It is a story of a man who has been cruelly victimized. His attempt to take revenge against the person who'd wronged him fails, so he generalizes his vengeance against all of mankind, killing indiscriminately and (literally) feeding human flesh to humans. Humans gleefully, ignorantly, devouring human flesh: what a terrible perversion of Eucharistic imagery.

Victimization, revenge, the generalization of revenge: another law in the physics of good and evil.

It just gets bloodier and bloodier all the time.

Is there sanctuary anywhere ?

The lust for power will have its way, even within the Church. It may be that in Christ there is neither male nor female, but in some people's conception of Church only heterosexual men need apply. Women priests ? Gay priests? A partnered gay Bishop ? As threatening to the patriarchy as a baby in a wretched pile of straw.

I went to Broadmoor Sanctuary to take pictures the other day. The snow was thawing, but there was still lots of it, and walking was difficult. Each step was a slip and slide on uneven snowpack, and, before long, I was tired and fretful with the effort it took to remain upright. The sketchy little muscle below my right scapula began to hurt, and I felt impatient and distracted.

And yet it was better here than almost anywhere. Amidst the thickets of my peevishness there was deep contentment. Turtles were sleeping under the ice of the swamp. A woodpecker flitted among the bare branches. I saw bright red berries among the beautiful, subtle colors of decay. It was the same peace I felt in the sacristy on Saturday mornings, assembling the vessels and linens.

What right did I have to such peace and contentment ? Bilious me, vessel of little forgiveness and large resentments, perpetual font of anger and sarcasm, hardhearted recluse and misanthrope ?

It was mine by grace, not merit. A proof of mercy.

I took the Green Line into Boston a few weeks ago. The train stopped and I watched as a tall man got out. He was about my age, unsteady on his feet, unshaven, wretchedly dressed. Homeless and drunk, probably. I thought, Crazy, maybe. I watched him through the window as he stood on the platform and looked around.

A few feet from him stood a young woman, tall, shapely, stylish, even elegant -- long hair, short skirt, expensive-looking leather boots. He staggered closer to her. She backed away. He came closer still and, speaking, put out a hand. Touched her shoulder, just a tap, not a grab. She pulled away, but he persisted.

I felt her discomfort and fear, then suddenly the vector of my empathy shifted: I was inside the man, inside a drunken, wounded, desperate, lonely man, reaching out from a hopeless, reeling fog of abandonment and need. The subway door slammed shut and the train pulled away.

Innocence. Sin. Repentance. Forgiveness. Mercy. Grace. I was slipping all over these surface of these things.

Could I empathize with Herod ? Or forgive him ? What does empathy have to do with forgiveness ? And what about justice ? Not just criminal justice, but distributive justice ?

On this day, the Feast of the Holy Innocents, de profundus clamavi ad te, Domine --

We have denied your goodness in each other
in ourselves, and in the world you have created.
We repent of the evil that enslaves us
the evil we have done
and the evil done on our behalf

Lord, hear our prayer.

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