Sunday, December 30, 2012

Christmas, the Feast of the Holy Family, and El Niño Pobre: A Meditation

Today's the feast of the Holy Family in some Christian religious traditions . . . 

And I cannot stop thinking about the picture at the head of the posting. I found it on the Generaccion website just before Christmas, as I was searching for depictions of the Holy Child of Bethlehem as El Niño Pobre. It's the illustration for a meditation that Enrique Bravo Castrillón has written about Christmas as a time to remember el niño pobre.

Because I don't like looking at this picture, because I'd like to do everything possible not to see it, I've downloaded it as my screensaver for the Christmas season. This forces me to see it every time I log onto my computer. 

I know nothing at all about the child in the photo. Castrillón entitles the photo, "Navidad del Niño Pobre," but he doesn't say where the photo was taken or who this child is. I assume it's a photo from Latin America. From a largely Catholic country.

From a place where millions of people live who share my faith tradition.

And it makes it all the more painful to think about and look at this photo when I recognize that possibility.

This has been a painful (that word recurs) Christmas season. Even as we look at the fat, pink little blond-haired baby boy in the crib, with his blond-haired mother adoring him, we hear the cries of those children massacred in a senseless slaughter in Connecticut prior to Christmas.

The sound of those cries somehow spoils the iconography of Christmas for me. I prefer the fat, pink little blond-haired baby to children weeping, screaming, as they're slaughtered.

To the ill-clad, dirty little child (is it a boy or a girl? a boy if a niño, but I can't determine this from the photo alone) crouching to pick through crumbs of bread or cake on the street.

The danger of posting such photos and talking about the cruelty of our culture towards children is that we imagine--I imagine--I've done something if I talk. And look.

And even as we talk about 20 children shot to death in Connecticut recently, we receive end-of-year reports about the unprecedented number of children shot to death in Chicago throughout this year. Mostly poor children of color.

Whose cries seem somehow harder for many of us to hear. Because they're the cries of poor children who happen to be black and brown.

This has been a painful Christmas season. My heart is torn as I listen to the cries, as I reflect on my lack of interest in solving the problems that produce such pain. 

As I listen to more savagery pouring out of the mouths of men of God during this Christmas season, while these men attack their gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.

As I deal with the enervating battles within my own church, enervating battles in which people who should be working together, making common cause with each other, rip each other apart, instead.

But one thing I know if I expect salvation, even as I walk through this painful season, the volleys of hate lobbed against some of us by men of God, the truly stupid and tragic sniping that tears apart movements of solidarity which promise to make a positive difference:

My salvation depends on keeping that child's image in my heart. On doing something to change things. On refusing to stop my ears to the cries of pain.

On pushing and prodding and cajoling and bitching to get myself and other Americans to stop pretending that we care about children, while we permit children in this nation to be gunned down at a rate shocking and unthinkable to civilized people around the world, and while we permit children anywhere in the world (because we have the resources here in our nation!) to eat crumbs as they crouch on the street.

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