Rachel Weeping

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
“A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.” Matthew 2:16-18

The first lie I remember learning, being forced to tell, is that I had no baby brother. I barely remember it. I remember being very, very scared. All the grown ups were running around, screaming, shouting, crying. There were horses, lots of horses, in the streets of Bethlehem. And soldiers. Soldiers going in and out of the houses.

I remember my mother hurting me, hurting me because she was grabbing my shoulders so hard. Grabbing my shoulders and shaking me and crying and crying. She made me say it again and again. My baby brother died. My baby brother is dead. I don’t have a baby brother.
And I didn’t. I had a baby brother before that day. I remember looking at him, I remember stroking his soft hair, much softer than the turtle dove. I remember watching my mother feed him and how I wanted her to feed me that way. I remember I wanted to be the one she held and stroked and sang to while her nipple was in his mouth. I remember wishing he would disappear so she would hold me that way.

And then he disappeared.

At first, I asked about him but I was always told to hush, that he had died and that was an end to it. So I stopped asking. But I never stopped wondering.
My mother was always sad after that. Even after my brother Joshua was born a few years later. And then my sister, Sarah. I tried to remember what my baby brother’s name was. I tried to ask, but I was told he didn’t have a name, he had died at birth.

I didn’t even know that I was being taught to lie. I thought I had wanted him not to be and so he wasn’t. I thought I was the reason that my baby brother died and my mother was always sad. So I was very careful when Joshua and Sarah were born. I kept away from them. I tried not to think about them or look at them at all.
Ah, well, that was so many years ago. Now I live in Nain and I sit, waiting, waiting again for that unwelcome visitor. It should be an old friend by now, so many times has it visited. First my mother, then my father, my brother, my husband, and now my son. Soon death will come again and when he leaves, I will stay but my son will go with him.

I went to see that new prophet, the one they say can heal the sick. They say he’s from near here, from Nazareth. He travels the country with his companions, teaching and healing. I thought I would ask him, beg him, to heal my son. So I went to see him. He was sitting on a hillside. I looked at the men and women around him. Since he’s from Nazareth, I thought I might know one of his companions. Someone who could introduce me, plead with me for my son. I looked at them, one by one, until my heart lurched. One of the youngest men looked just like my brother Joshua, like my father. He looked to be the right age, the age of those babies when I was four. Those babies who were all killed. All killed when my mother taught me that my baby brother had never lived.

I just stood and stared. The man who might be, must be my brother saw me staring and smiled a questioning smile. The man they call a prophet saw me and smiled a gentle sad smile. He motioned for me to come but I fled back home in tears.

Maybe tomorrow, tomorrow if I am not walking with that ugly visitor behind my only son’s body, maybe tomorrow I will go back. I have two questions in my heart now. One for the prophet and one for his companion.

Soon afterwards he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town. When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Luke 7:11-15

The Midwife

Naomi, the innkeeper’s daughter, came for me
Sarah, her mother, had sent her
“Mom says she thinks
The young woman will need help soon”
So I went.
The innkeeper
With a worry frown
Called his wife to the door.
Sarah came with a lantern
And led us around back
To the caves
There we found the young woman
Her eyes wide with fear and hope
Leaning against her husband
As they sat on a blanket
Stretched over the straw
I knelt next to her, spoke gently
Let my hand rest for long moments on her huge belly
Sarah sent Naomi back to the house with instructions
I took the young husband’s place
And set him to heating water
At the courtyard fire
Naomi returned with Leah, the serving girl
Their arms full of cloth
Rags and sheets and swaddling
We replaced the good blanket with old sheets
We waited, we comforted, we encouraged
We had the whispering girls ready a bed for the baby.
When it was time
Sarah and I got her onto the low stool
Sarah behind her, supporting arms around her
One last gasp, groan, push, gush
And I gently guided another wet baby
Out of another mother
Thank the Lord the night is mild
The young mother is strong
The baby is healthy and crying loudly
Even before I deliver the afterbirth
Sarah speaks quietly to the young mother
“Praise and thank the Lord, a healthy boy
You have done well.”
I tied and cut the cord
Cleaned and swaddled the baby
We kept the girls busy helping to clean up
When we left
The young mother lay on the blanket
Stretched again over clean straw
Suckling her newborn son
Her husband at her side
Stroking his firstborn’s head
Holding his wife’s hand.
I told them I would return later in the day
To check mother and child
He shyly asked about my fee
I told him to rest, to enjoy
We would talk about that later
Sarah said she would send Leah back
With bread and hot sweet tea
They smiled their weary thanks
We left then
Sarah, Naomi, Leah and I
Tired but pleased
The baby was healthy
The young mother was strong
The girls had learned more about birth
A good birth
That was all I ever asked of the Lord
Praise and thanksgiving for a good birth
Such a birth always made a night’s work
Holy work

My Mary

An angel describes,
Passionately,
How great her son will be.
A teenager asks,
Sassily,
“Aren’t you forgetting one thing –
I’m a virgin.”

A mother speaks to her grown son,
Gives him THAT LOOK.
He sighs,
And takes care of the wine problem.

A woman stands erect and unmoving,
Defying Romans, Jews and grief itself,
To watch her son die a criminal.

The church statues?
No time for them.
The meek mild ever virgin?
No need for her.

Mary the impudent,
Mary the importunate,
Mary the brave,
She is my Mary.