The Manger Is Empty – Part 2

The Manger Is Empty – Part 2 —by Walter Wangerin, Jr.

Part 1 is here.

On Tuesday, the 22nd of December, Odessa Williams died.

It had been a long time coming, but it was quick when it came. She died in her sleep and went to God without her dentures.

Quick when it came, I say: Odessa left us little time to mourn for her. Gaines Funeral Home had less than a day to prepare her body, because the wake would take place on Wednesday evening. The funeral itself had to be scheduled for Thursday morning. There was no alternative. Friday was Christmas Day; Saturday and Sunday were the weekend; Gaines would be closed for three days straight, and Monday was too far away to make Odessa wait for burial. She would be buried, then, on Christmas Eve Day.

And I, for my own part, was terribly distracted by a hectic week. This was the very crush of the season, you see, with a children’s pageant and extra services to prepare. My pastoral duty was already doubled; Odessa’s funeral tripled it. So I rushed from labor to labor, more pastor than father, more worker than wise.

Not brutally, but somewhat busily at lunch on Wednesday, I mentioned to my children that Miz Williams had died. They were eating soup. This was not an unusual piece of news in our household, for the congregation had its share of elderly.

I scarcely noticed, then, that Mary stopped eating and stared at her bowl of soup.

I wiped my mouth and rose from the table.

“Dad?”

I was trying to remember what time the children should be at church to rehearse the Christmas program. Timing was everything. I wanted to give them a last instruction before I left.

“Dad?”

One thirty! “Listen – Mom will drive you to church a 1:15. Can you all be ready then?”

“Dad?”

“Mary, what?” She was still staring at the soup, large eyes lost behind her hair.

“Is it going to snow tomorrow?” she said.

“What? I don’t know. How would I know that?”

“It shouldn’t snow,” she said.

“You always wanted snow at Christmas.”

In a tiny voice she whispered, “I want to go to the funeral.”

Well, then, that was it: She was considering what to wear against the weather. I said, “Fine,” and left.

Thursday came gray and hard and cold and windless. It grudged the earth a little light and made no shadow. The sky was sullen, draining color from the grass and the naked trees. I walked to church in the morning.

We have a custom in our congregation: Always, before a funeral service begins, we set the casket immediately in front of the chancel and leave it open about an hour. People come for a final viewing of the body, friends who couldn’t attend the wake, acquaintances on their way to work, strangers out of the past, memories, stories, that will never be told. The dead one lies the same for all who gaze at her, infinitely patient. So people enter the church, and they creep up the aisle, and they look, and they think, and they leave again.

Soon some of the mourners remain. They keep their coats on, but they sit in the pews and wait.

And then, ten minutes before the service, I robe myself and stand in the back of the church to meet the greater flow of mourners. Last of all the family will arrive in limousines. I keep peeping out the door to see whether the silent cars have slid to their places at the curb.

And so it was that on Christmas Eve at 11 in the morning I discovered Mary outside the door. In fact, she was standing on the sidewalk while her mother parked the car. She was staring at the sullen sky.

“Mary?” I said. “Are you coming in?”

She glanced at me. Then she whispered, “Dad?” as though the news were dreadful. “It’s going to snow.”

It looked very likely to snow. The air was still, the whole world bleak and waiting. I could have agreed with her.

“Dad?” she repeated more urgently, probing me with large eyes—but what was I supposed to do? “It’s going to snow!” she said.

“Come in, Mary. We don’t have time to talk. Come in.”

She entered the church ahead of me and climbed the steps in the narthex, then started up the aisle toward the casket. She was determined. Though robed and ready to preach, and though people sat face-forward on either side, I followed her.

Mary hesitated as she neared the chancel, but then took a final step and stopped.

She looked down into the casket. “Oh, no,” she murmured, and I looked to see what she was seeing.

Odessa’s eyes seemed closed with glue, her lips too pale, her color another shade than her own, a false, woody color. Her skin seemed pressed into its patience. And the bridge of her nose suffered a set of glasses. Had Odessa worn glasses? Yes, sometimes. But these were perched on her face a little askew, so that one became aware of them for the first time. Someone else had put them thee. What belonged to the lady anymore, and what did not?

These were my speculations.

Mary had her own.

The child was reaching her hand toward the tips of Odessa’s fingers, fingers like sticks of chalk, but she paused and didn’t touch them. Suddenly she bent down and pressed her cheek to the fingers, then pulled back and stood erect.

“Dad!” she hissed. Mary turned and looked at me and did not blink but began to cry. “Dad!” she wept. “They can’t put Miz Williams in the grave today. It’s going to snow on her grave. It’s going to snow on Miz Williams.”

All at once Mary stepped forward and buried her face in my robes. I felt the pressure of her forehead against my chest—and I was her father again, no pastor, and my own throat grew thick.

“Dad,” sobbed Mary. “Dad, Dad, it’s Christmas Eve!”

These were the tears. These were the tears my daughter cried at Christmas. What do I say to these tears? It is death my Mary met. It’s the end of things. It’s the knowledge that things have an end. Good things, kind and blessed things, things new and rare and precious, and their goodness doesn’t save them; that love has an end; that people have an end; that Odessa Williams, that fierce old lady who seized the heart of my Mary and possessed it just four days ago, who was so real in dim light, waving her arms to the music of the children, that she has an end, has ended, is gone, is dead.

How do I comfort these tears? What do I say?

I said nothing.

I knelt down. I took my Mary’s face between my hands, but couldn’t hold her gaze. I gathered her to myself and hugged her tightly, hugged her hard, hugged her until the sobbing passed from her body, and then I released her.

I watched her go back down the aisle like a poker soldier. She turned in a pew and sat with her mother. I saw that her lips were pinched into a terrible knot. No crying anymore. No questions anymore. Why should she ask questions when there were no answers given?

So: the funeral. And so: the sermon. And so I was the pastor again.

This was the text: “But there will be no gloom for her that was in anguish.” The prophet Isaiah. It had seemed a perfect text, both for the season and for Odessa. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light,” I read. That prophecy had come true in Jesus. It would become a truth again for the fierce old woman whose memorial this was. And for us, too, since we were mourning now, but we would be celebrating tonight. I read: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given.” Christmas! I said somewhere in my sermon. Light is shining everywhere across the world, as light is shining first and perfectly in heaven. None who die in the Lord do die in darkness.

But what were Isaiah and prophecy and all the sustaining truths of Christendom to my daughter Mary? She sat through the sermon with pinched lips and a sidelong stare. What was heaven to her? Nothing. Odessa had been something to her. You could touch and love Odessa. But Odessa was dead. The casket was closed. Death was something to her now, and maybe the only thing.

Later, at Oakhill Cemetery, the people stood in great coats round the casket, shivering. My breath made ghosts in the air as I read of dust and ashes returning to dust and ashes. Mary said not a word nor held her mother’s hand nor looked at me—except once.

When we turned form the grave she hissed, “Dad!” Her blue eyes flashing, she pointed at the ground. Then she pointed at the sky. At the roots of the grasses was a fine, white powder; in heaven was a darker powder coming down. It was snowing.

Continued in Part 3.

The Manger Is Empty – Part 1 of 3

This second Christmas story is for everyone, inasmuch as the Christmas Story itself is. The first story I shared unfolded a wondrous, physical miracle that is perfectly explainable. . . yet remarkably outside the spread of galactic chances.

This story, is a father’s glimpse into a soul so big in one so young. It is a story without guile, unashamed at its own goodness and wisdom. Let it take you where it will:


The Manger Is Emptyby Walter Wangerin, Jr.

Part I

We have a custom in our congregation: Always we gather on the Sunday evening before Christmas, bundled and hatted and happy, and we go out into the sharp December darkness to sing carols. Down the streets of the city we go, the children bounding forward, adults all striding behind, chattering, making congenial noises, puffing ghosts of breath beneath the streetlights, laughing and glad for the company. Does anyone think it will snow? It’s cold enough to snow, and the air is still, and the stars are already a snow-dust in heaven.

We crowd on the porches of the old folks. The children feel a squealing excitement because they think we’re about to astonish Mrs. Moody in her parlor by our sudden appearing—carols from the out-of-doors, you know. She’ll be so surprised! So they giggle and roar a marvelous Hark! with their faces pressed against her window: Hark! The herald angels sing, glory to the newborn king. . .

Mrs. Moody turns on her porch light, then opens her curtains, and there she is, shaking her head and smiling, and the children fairly burst with glee. They can hardly stand it, to be so good. She turns on her porch light, and here we are, 15, maybe 20 of us, spilling down her steps into the little yard, lifting our faces, lifting our voices—doing silly things, like lifting our key rings to the refrain of “Jingle Bells” and making a perfect, rhythmic jangle.Everybody’s willing to be a kid. Nobody minds the cold tonight. The white faces among us are pinched with pink, the black ones (we are mostly black ones) frost, as though the cold were a white dust on our cheeks.

And down the street we go again, and so we sing for Mrs. Lander and Mrs. Smith and Mrs. Buckman and Mrs. DeWitt.

And though we can be silly, and though this is just an ordinary custom, yet we are no ordinary choir. Many of us sing for the Sounds of Grace, a choir of legitimate repute. And some of us have been blessed by God with voices the angels would weep to own.

Mary, whose heart could ponder so much.

And so it was that on Sunday evening, the 20th of December, 1981, we kept our custom and went out caroling. My daughter Mary was seven years old then. Dee Dee Lawrence, that blinking, innocent child whose beauty was not remarkable until she sang, was eight. Timmy Moore, with his husky and generous tenor voice, was with us, and the Hildreth children. Most of the children’s choir, in fact, had come along. The night was not much different from those that went before – except for this, the when we had finished our round of houses we went to St. Mary’s Hospital to sing for several members who were patients at Christmas time. We divided into three groups. As pastor, I myself led a handful of children to the room of Odessa Williams because her condition was worse than the others.

It was Odessa Williams who made the night different.

The children had never laid eyes on her before. When they crept into the ward and saw her cadaverous body, they were speechless. Scared, I think. Mary’s blue eyes grew very large, and I felt pity for her.

Well, I knew what to expect, but Mary didn’t. I had been visiting the woman for several years now –first in her apartment, where she’d been housebound, then in the nursing home –and I had watched the wasting of Odessa.

Two years ago she had been a strapping tall woman of strong ways, strong opinions, and very strong affections. Fiercely she had loved the church that she couldn’t actually attend. She’d kept abreast of congregational activities by telephone, by a gossip system, bu bulletins and newsletters and friends –and by me. She pumped me for information every time I visited her, striding about her apartment in crushed slippers, waving her old black arms in strong declaration of the things she thought I ought to do and the things I ought not, as pastor, to be doing.

I had learned, for my own protection, to check her mouth as soon as I entered her room. If the woman wore dentures, she was mad: She wanted her words to click with clarity, to snap and hiss with a precision equal to her anger. Mad at me, she needed teeth. But if she smiled a toothless smile on me, then I knew that her language would be soft and I had her approval – that week. She was particularly fierce regarding her children, the choir, the Sounds of Grace, though she had never heard them sing. She loved them. She swelled with a grand, maternal love for them. And if ever I had not, by her estimate, done right by these children, the teeth in the mouth of Odessa Williams were the flashing, clacking weapons of an avenging angel.

The disease that kept her housebound and sent her to the nursing home was cancer.

Cancer, finally, had laid her in the hospital.

And it was cancer that frightened the children when they crept around her bed on Sunday night, coming to sing carols to her. It put the odor of warm rot in the air. It had wasted Odessa to bone.

Mary and Dee Dee and Timmy and the others tried to touch nothing in the little space, not the bed, not the wall behind them. They grew solemn, unable to take their eyes from the form before them. One little lamp shed an orange light on the hollows of Odessa’s face, sunken cheeks and sunken temples and deep, deep eyes. The lids on her eyes were thin as onion skin, half closed; her flesh was dry like parchment; and the body that once was strapping now resembled broomsticks in her bed – skinny arms on a caven stomach, fingers as long as chalk. And who could tell if the woman was breathing?

Mary stood across the bed from me, not looking at me, gazing down at Odessa. Mary’s eyes kept growing larger.

So I whispered to all of them, “Sing.” But they shuffled instead.

“What’s this?” I whispered. “Did you lose your voices? Do you think she won’t like it?”

“We think she won’t hear,” said Mary.

“No, no, sing the same as you always do,” I said. “Sing for Miz Williams.”

Well, and so they did, that wide-eyed ring of children, though it was a pitiful effort at first, “Away in a Manger,” like nursery kids suspicious of their audience. But by the time the cattle were lowing, the children had found comfort in the sound of their voices and began to relax.Moreover, Odessa had opened her eyes, and there was a light in there, and she had begun to pick out their faces, and I saw that Mary was returning Odessa’s look with a fleeting little smile. So then they harked it with herald angels, and they found in their bosoms a first noel that other angels did say, and then a marvelous thing began to happen: Odessa Williams was frowning – frowning and nodding, frowning with her eyes squeezed shut, frowning, you see, with fierce pleasure, as though she were chewing a delicious piece of meat. So then Mary and all the children were grinning, because they knew instinctively what the frown of an old black woman meant.

Odessa did not have her dentures in.

And the marvelous thing that had begun could only grow more marvelous still.

For I whispered, “Dee Dee,” and the innocent child glanced at me, and I said, “Dee Dee, ‘Silent Night.’”

Dear Dee Dee! That girl, as dark as the shadows around her, stroked the very air as though it were a chime of glass. So high she soared on her crystal voice, so long she held the notes, that the rest of the children hummed and harmonized all unconsciously, and they began to sway together. “Round yon virgin, mother and child. . . .”

Odessa’s eyes flew open to see the thing that was happening around her. She looked, then she raised her long, long arms, and there, lying on her back, the old woman began to direct the music. By strong strokes she lifted Dee Dee Lawrence. She pointed the way, and Dee Dee trusted her, so Dee Dee sang a soprano descant higher and braver the she had ever sung before. Impossible! Stroke for stroke with imperious arms, Odessa Williams gathered her children and urged them to fly and sent them on a celestial flight to glory, oh! These were not children anymore. These were the stars. Their voices ascended on fountains of light to become the very hosts of heaven – so high, so bright and holy and high. Jesus, Lord, at thy birth! So beautiful.

And then that woman brought them down again, by meek degrees to the earth again, and to this room and to her bedside. There they stood, perfectly still, smiling in silence and waiting. How could anyone move immediately after such a wonder?

Nor did Odessa disappoint them. For then she began, in a low and smoky voice, to preach.

“Oh, children – you my choir,” Odessa whispered. “Oh, choir – you my children for sure. An’ listen me,” she whispered intently. She caught them one by one on the barb of her eye. “Ain’ no one stand in front of you for goodness, no! You the bes’, babies. You the absolute best.”

The children gazed at her, and the children believed her completely: They were the best. And my Mary, too, believed what she was hearing, heart and soul.

“Listen me,” Odessa said. “When you sing, wherever you go to sing, look down to the front row of the people who come to hear you sing. There’s alluz an empty seat there. See it?” The children nodded. They saw it. “Know what that empty space is?” The children shook their heads. “It’s me,” she said, and they nodded. “It’s me,” she whispered in the deep orange light. “Cause I alluz been with you, children. An’ whenever you sing, I’m goin’ to be with you still. An’ you know how I can say such a mackulous thing?” They waited to know. She lowered her voice, and she told them. “Why, ‘cause we in Jesus,” she whispered the mystery. “Babies, babies, we be in the hand of Jesus, old ones, young ones, and us and you together. Jesus, He hold us in His hand, and ain’ no one goin’ to snatch us out. Jesus, He don’ never let one of us go. Never. Not ever.”

So spoke Odessa, and the children fell silent. So said the woman with such conviction and such fierce love that the children rolled tears from their open eyes, and they were not ashamed. They reached over and patted the bones of her body beneath the blankets.

Mary’s eyes, too, were glistening. The woman had won my daughter. In that incandescent moment, Mary had come to love Odessa Williams. She slipped a soft hand toward the bed and touched the tips of Odessa’s fingers, and she smiled and cried at once. For this is the power of a wise love wisely expressed: to transfigure a heart, suddenly, forever.

But these are good, contemplative tears. They are not like the tears my Mary cried on Christmas Eve.

Continued in Part 2.

A Christmas Miracle

Reposted, for the new folks that visit here:

Herewith, the first true story I promised you. This one is short enough for its own single post. It was originally published in Moody (the seminary, not the condition) Magazine in December 1988. In re-reading it, I am struck by the level of medical care in 1947. Still, like even our most modern care, it is a byway on the way to a destination that is ultimately out of our control. I hope you enjoy it:
A Christmas Miracle – by Dr. Joseph A. MacDougall as told to Douglas How

Finally, one day that December, I had to tell her. Medically, we were beaten. The decision lay with God. She took it quietly, lying there, wasting away, only 23 and the mother of a year-old child. Eleanor Munro (her name has been disguised) was a devout, courageous woman. She had red hair and had probably been rather pretty, but it was hard to tell anymore, she was so near to death from tuberculosis. She knew it now, she accepted it, and she asked for just one thing. “If I’m still alive on Christmas Eve,” she said slowly, “I would like your promise that I can go home for Christmas.”

It disturbed me. I knew she shouldn’t go. The lower lobe of her right lung had a growing tubercular cavity in it an inch in diameter. She had what the doctors call open TB and could spread the germs by coughing.

But I made the promise. Frankly, I did so because I was sure she’d be dead before Christmas. In the circumstances, it seemed little enough to do. And if I hadn’t made it, I wouldn’t be telling this story.

Eleanor’s husband had the disease when he returned from overseas service in World War II. Before it was detected and checked, they married. She caught the disease and had little immunity against it. It came on so fast and lodged in such a difficult place, it confounded every doctor who tried to help her.

To have a tubercular cavity in the lower lobe is rare. When they took her to the provincial sanatorium in Kentville, it became obvious that the main problem was how to get at it.

If it had been in the upper lobe, they could have performed an operation called a thoracoplasty, which involves taking out some of the upper ribs to collapse the lobe, and put that area of the lung at rest.

Unfortunately, this operation couldn’t be used for the lower lobe. It would have meant removing some of the lower ribs, which her body needed for support. And in any case, it probably would not collapse the cavity.

With thoracopasty ruled out, they tried a process called artificial pneumothorax, which uses needles to pump in air to force the collapse of the lung through pressure. Although the doctors made several attempts, this process didn’t work because previous bouts of pleurisy had stuck the lung to the chest wall and the air couldn’t circulate.

Finally they considered a rare surgical procedure called a pneumonectomy–taking out the entire lung–but they rejected it because she was too sick to withstand surgery and steadily getting worse.

Their alternatives exhausted, they reluctantly listed her as a hopeless case and sent her back to her home hospital in Antigonish.

I was 31, and I hadn’t been there very long. At St. Martha’s Hospital I provided an anesthesia service and looked after a small TB annex, a place for about 40 patients, most of them with little or no hope of cure.

That’s how Eleanor Munro came to be my patient in 1947.

She had weighed 125 pounds. She was down to 87 the first time I saw her. Her fever was high, fluctuating between 101 and 103 degrees. She was, and looked, very toxic.

But she could still smile, I’ll always remember. If you did her the slightest kindness, she’d smile.

Maybe that encouraged me. I don’t know. But I did know that I had to try to help her.

I first called a top expert in Montreal on the use of a new drug called streptomycin. he told me the drug wasn’t available. When I described the case, he said he would advise against its use anyway.

I then phoned a doctor in New York who was experimenting with a procedure called pneumopertoneum.

It consists of injecting needles into the peritoneal cavity to force in air and push the diaphragm up against the lung. If we could get pressure against that lower lobe, we could hope to force the TB cavity shut.

If we could do that, nature would have a chance to close and heal the cavity by letting the sides grow together.

At the hospital, we considered the risks and decided we had to face them. We operated to pump air into Eleanor’s peritoneal cavity.

It nearly killed her. It was obvious that the amount of air she could tolerate could in no way help. Every doctor in the room agreed we shouldn’t try a second time. We were licked.

I told her that medical science had gone as far as it could go. As I explained why in detail, she listened with a quiet dignity and an amazing resignation. I told her that her Creator now had the final verdict. It might not be what either of us wanted, but it would be the best for her under the circumstances.

She nodded and then exacted from me that promise.

Amazingly, she was still alive on Christmas Eve, though just barely. But she held me to my promise, and with renewed doubts, I kept it. I told her not to hold her child and to wear a surgical mask if she was talking to anyone but her husband. His own case had given him immunity.

She promised, and off she went by ambulance, wearing that smile I can’t forget.

She came back to St. Martha’s late on Christmas Day and she kept ebbing.

No one could have watched her struggle without being deeply moved. Every day her conditin grew just a bit worse, yet every day she clung to life.

Toward the end of February, she was down to 80 pounds; she couldn’t eat–and new complications set in. She became nauseated and began to vomit even without food in her stomach.

I was stumped. I called in a senior medical consultant, and when he examined her, he was stumped, too. But with a grin, almost jokingly, he asked me if I thought she could be pregnant.

The suggestion seemed utterly ridiculous. Everything I knew about medicine added up to one conclusion: She was so ill, so weak, she couldn’t possibly have conceived. Her body just wasn’t up to it.

Nevertheless, I did take a pregnancy test. To my astonishment, it was positive. On the very outer frontier of life itself, she now bore a second life within her. It was as close to the impossible as you’re ever likely to get, but it was true.

When I told her, she smiled and faintly blushed.

Legally and medically, we could have taken that child through abortion because it imperiled a life that was already in jeopardy. At that time, TB was the number one medical reason for doing so.

But we didn’t do it. The patient and her husband were against it. We doctors at St. Martha’s were against it, not only on religious grounds, but because we were certain the operation would kill her. Besides, she was so far gone that we were sure her body would reject the child anyway.

So we fed her intravenously and watched her fight to sustain two lives in a body in which only some remarkable strength of character or divine intervention had allowed to sustain even one.

The struggle went on for weeks, and never once did we alter our conviction that she was dying. But she simply refused to die. And she kept her child.

And then an incredible thing began to happen. By late March, 1948, I was confounded to find her temperature beginning to go down. For the first time, we noted some improvement in her condition. She began to eat and to gain weight.

A chest X-ray showed that the growth of the TB cavity had stopped. Soon after, another X-ray showed that her diaphragm was pushing up against the lower lobe of her diseased lung to make room for the child she bore.

Nature was doing what we’d failed to do with pneumoperitoneum–it was pressing the sides of that deadly hole together. The child was saving the mother!

The child did save her. By the time it was born, a normal healthy baby, the TB cavity was closed.

The mother was markedly better, so much better that we let her go home for good within a few months. her smile had never been brighter.

I still remember with delight the Christmas cards she sent me for years. They were just ordinary cards, with the usual printed greetings. But to me, they were like monuments to a miracle of Christmas.

****

Update: The doctor’s own daughter left a comment below. Please take a moment to read it.

Prince of Tides And Other Thoughts

I Feel Fine

I Feel Fine

Here at the marina we experience a six-foot swing in the tide levels, and on full moons even more. That makes my new morning walk to my car from the boat a sometime mountain-climb. But the regularity of my work hours allows that I once again can bond with the changing of times and tides, embracing the changeless surety of the changes.

I’m happy to be back in touch with the sun and moon and tides. Like an inner compass, they steady my way even when that entails earlier mornings and longer commutes. I note the sun’s position, the tidal crests and ebbs as a calendar of quietude or coming chaos. Strangely happy, yet I am woefully sapped of any desire to join the current of cars on the rivers of asphalt. Better, I think, to lure little tasty crabs and fishes to my lines. Far better, sez I, to sit and think, or write, or neither. Let’s just play guitar and sing Buffet songs and smile at dock-mates and swear at the assholes who never slow their boats when passing by the marina.

More rum is needed, I think.

Surprised by… Peace

dandelions
I awoke this morning with a strange sensation of contentment and peace. A childhood of terror mixed with abnormal norms, sprinkled with saving graces of diversion, topped with something close enough to love when it was available, yielded a dandelion heart within me. So many wishes on the wind…

What a gracious gift is Time, if you’re doing it right. What a surprise is Peace, when it arrives seemingly unbidden.

I consider it a volley against the coming Night.

Little Feet in Trophy Jars. Why?

I’m just guessing here:

[Re-posted from two years ago. The wheels of justice grind slowly, it seems.]

Shannon Love at ChicagoBoyz is disgusted with pro-lifers who won’t embrace her heartfelt reaction to the horror in Philadelphia.  She states her pro-choice bona fides, gets in a dig at pro-lifers,  and proceeds to bewail the Left’s shortsighted resistance to oversight and regulation of any sort.  She is a pro-choicer who, now that the end of such thinking has been made perfectly and horribly clear to her, wants to seem moderate and sensible and of course horrified by the killing of live babies.

She is seriously, and sadly, disgusted that we all didn’t just fawn over her wisdom and clarity and is angry that pro-lifers have weighed in because, dammit, she’s trying to do something good with her outrage and why can’t we see that? She accuses pro-lifers of being a political movement, btw. How disingenuous is that? (Now, I’ve never once visited a purely pro-life website, mainly because I don’t need any education whatsoever about valuing human life. I guess I come by it naturally.)

Wait, let me ponder that: a political movement that never needed to exist until Margaret Sanger took aim at the womb.  The audacity of the non-thinker!  I do feel for one so named, Love, as she strikes me as a true-believer, steeped in her unblushing self-esteem. She even spouted the time-honored lie that most late-term abortions are to extract a miscarried fetus, without the first hint of even knowing if it’s true. So deeply in the dark is she! And yet, that she is rattled by Dr. Gosnell’s unashamed pursuit of his wealth gives her the faint glow of humanity. There is hope for her if she’ll allow her discomfort to do its cleansing work. I fear, however, that she has already shut that door, as evidenced by her updates and comments: it’s pretty much all about her intense feelings that more regulation would remove the stench of her precious choice and its consequences.

Meanwhile, Dr. Gosnell’s ghastly little trophies are more than just those that are seen in a jar on a shelf. They represent a mockery of the pro-life movement. An in-your-face and evil assault on his perceived enemies.  The “tiny feet” have been the pro-life movement’s wordless challenge to those with so many, many words, reasons, studies, fears, expediencies and outright militant attitudes. A Logo against the logos.

For Dr. Gosnell they are talismans of his soul: the sum total of its worth apparently only a few paltry millions of dollars that will not follow him beyond the grave.

It is a failure of the will, as I pointed out to Ms. Love, as she suggests a solution that is already in place and willfully ignored–by more than one actor; indeed, for this horror to have continued the complicity of several people, institutions and agencies would have to be arranged.

I would be more interested in any honest person on the Left or Right’s thoughts on how so many, many promised safeguards and sensible policies were blithely and boldly ignored by so many. Was silence bought? It doesn’t seem so. Was extortion or blackmail threatened if someone spoke out? Are there other crimes here?

What would cause so many to be in agreement with something so heinous? It must be airborne to reach so far and wide without anyone being bothered enough to report it. When did the boundary for late-term become so easily disregarded? Was it because it was so vague and imaginary as to be dismissed as irrelevant? That can’t be it. . .

Well, we’re here now. Why bother looking at the map? It’s not like anyone’s going to turn the car around and head for home. That wouldn’t be progressive. That’s not leaning forward. So what if we don’t like it here?  We’ve come so far!

Right. Next up: worshiping fire!

Mourning Into Dancing

First, this: John 20

11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”

“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

 

“Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

You’d think, at the very moment when all of man’s past history focuses narrowly into the very point of Heaven coming down to earth, and which, from that same Point all of the future would fan out in a new understanding of God, that we could expect something a bit more sober and serious from the account of the resurrection. Some sort of Behold! like the angels in the shepherd’s fields announcing Jesus’ birth. But no. The account of the angels in the tomb starts things off with a wry or even dramatic, “why are you crying?” as if they didn’t know.  It suggests to my mind that they are leading her on a bit in her grief because they want the joy to be that much sweeter.

It’s not unlike all the videos we see of soldiers coming home and delaying their reunion for the sake of a good surprise. Yes, we can think it a bit cruel when our heart is so sore with grief that our long-lost loved one would delay for even a moment.  But Love’s ultimate success is in its surprise. Jesus is in on the joyful joke here, at his own tomb, asking the woman there who she’s looking for in his tomb! It positively carries a tender sentiment that rings of an affable, approachable and human Love infused with Heavenly joy.

The long separation is over. God and Man can now be at home, together! A surprise in the making! It was a long time coming. Calls were made, plans drawn up, friends called in to help, secrets suppressed, hints dropped.  But first, a terrible journey. When you consider all the pain endured, and the horrific price paid, I suppose it’s not unlikely that the power of Heaven’s holy joy would still be bursting forth from the tomb like an atomic afterglow.

Consider for yourself the long waiting, the endless longing for your heart’s own fulfillment.  The separation from joy feels like death.  But the reunion is Life and Love and Joy unspeakable.  The wholeness and joy of a loved one’s embrace that was too long denied by distance and circumstance has now restored everything to its proper place.

“Thou hast turned my mourning into dancing!” is the wonder of Easter.  Let Love surprise you this Easter. Love has found you, that’s all that matters:

“Why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

Just Doing Your Job

You got up this morning at oh-dark-thirty and dressed without thinking, the familiar trappings of power and might are just so much weight and smell. Even though the leather reinforcements behind the impressive metal were long ago worn smooth with oily sweat and long marches, the garments of a Roman Centurion are not designed for comfort. You report to your appointed post and assume the air of disappointed privilege, the kind that carries the Great Roman Seal of power over those whose land you occupy, but you’re not sure if riding herd on the conquered god-botherers is dignified enough for you. At least they’re a civilized bunch that appreciates authority and order. Well, when they’re not out to lynch a prophet or insurrectionist.

Speaking of which, this guy Jesus is in dutch with his own people, but you can’t imagine why. He didn’t put up much of a fight last night but wow, when He spoke it was like getting punched in the face. You remember falling back a few steps, hand on your sword. You really thought He was gonna call down fire the minute he spoke. But no, not so much as a curse for the stool-pigeon who set him up. A few feints of swordplay by some clumsy fisherman weren’t aimed at you, but at the feckless elders of their own people.  You smile grimly. You recognized their jealousy even through their pious show of concern for the People. Nasty business all around. So you wonder what Pilate will do with him. Probably beat him and release him and get back to whatever it is the one-percent do when they are not forced to perform a dumb show of justice.

Hold on. What? Crucify Him? You’re not squeamish about the process one bit, and if it’s what it takes to quell some bothering riot you’re all for it. You have plans for the weekend, after all. But damn it’s gonna be hard to do quickly, because this guy Jesus apparently has a sizable following. Not that they are armed, but that many people can cause trouble if they want to. There goes your weekend plans for sure. Some talk about Him not staying dead, like all good examples of the tender mercies of Rome do.  Great. Extra duty and no extra salt to show for it.

You see Him being led into your area. Time to get to work.