“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” — The Gospel of John, Chapter 1, verse 5
[For the P.C. police — I’m conscious of the way “darkness” has come to mean “bad” and that this was used for years to say that Blacks were less than Whites. Nothing could be further from the truth. There are plenty of Black men and women who are worth far more in my eyes than some White folks I know — and vice-versa. What I mean hear is more like “radiance” or “glow”. Black women get “that glow” about them as well when pregnant. These thoughts were, in fact, sparked by the sight of a young black woman and a few white women today.]
It has been a really horrible period for babies in my practice as Christmas approaches. This week, I saw a pregnant addict; a pregnant women whose “Baby Daddy” is a “playa” , in and out of jail, and certainly not taking care of her; a baby recently born to a couple who are now miserable (unrelated to the baby); and a newly pregnant and already miserable couple. So much for God giving people a baby born into a beautiful world of innocence when the loving couple is ready. Who would want to bring a child into this? Why would God possibly bring a child into a life with little or no promise to start with? I can’t imagine bringing a child into any of these situations, and I know that each of the women would be sad if — now that they’re pregnant wouldn’t want to bring the child to term. Is God really that poor of a planner? Does God really like to set kids up for failure?
The answer came this evening at South Church in New Britain, CT’s Christmas Eve service in which the congregation met and then walked through the streets of New Britain to the nearby Homeless Shelter to finish worship. It was during the walk that the answer came. As I walked next to Rev. Ben Doolittle down the street, people grabbed their boyfriends and yelled, “Hey, there’s the Father from the church up the street!”. Ben’s not a “Father” (a priest) in that sense, but they knew who he was. Winos came from bars to see him and wished him a “Merry Christmas!” Others stared in happy disbelief as this man in his black robe and white stole walked down the street. They were just about cheering for him. At the other end of the line, our pastor, George Harris, probably drew the same response.
As we walked, I remarked that had we been walking down a suburban town nearby, they would have thought he was simply late for something and hadn’t changed. He would have gotten no response, no calls, no cheering, no notice at all. But here in the city, amongst the winos and drug-addled homeless, they got it, because God isn’t supposed to go down there in their minds. Why would God want to know them? People in the suburbs already have everything they need. They expect God to want to be there. Those people deserve miracles, so to have The Holy among them is no great shakes.
But to have God appear in the city, where people have no jobs, no money and no hope — when Meaning shows up in a Place Without Meaning, people notice. I recognize this when I work with the mentally ill as a chaplain. The people know who I am, even without a robe, or stole or the white collar. All of this leads me to … babies.
One of the oddest things that I have learned in my work with addicts is that people with compulsions can suddenly stop in two ways. Men who go to jail — and could get drugs inside — suddenly don’t use. The restriction of their freedom seems to be enough to prevent them from using. Women who have used drugs for years and years, on the other hand, suddenly stop when they discover that the are pregnant. Cravings, shmavings! They suddenly are able to take care of their babies when they haven’t been able to take care of themselves for years — and their lives turn around. Instead of bringing an innocent baby into a cruel world which destroys the baby’s life, the innocent and helpless baby brings a reminder of innocence to people who can’t remembering being innocent. When Hope appears in a Place of No Hope, when Innocence appears in a World Without Innocence, people suddenly notice.
Sometimes, just like in Jesus’ day,or in the darkest recesses of the city, people ignore it anyway, because they are simply too far gone. A client told me today about a woman who drank like her alcoholic self all through her pregnancy. It is unrealistic of us to expect babies to do the “heavy lifting” of bringing hope to the world, but it is not unrealistic to expect God to, so God puts that bit of Holiness in each child that is conceived or born or in utero — that little bit of possibility, that little bit of innocence that brings hope of a new life, without the weight of past sins or mistakes.
But I swear to you, it’s not the light that makes it noticeable. It’s the darkness around it that brings out the radiance. It’s the contrast between what is (our way) and what could be (God’s way) that makes the holiness stick out. The people that need it most see it the best. It’s not that God isn’t holy all the time — just like babies aren’t innocent all the time. It’s just that it makes more of a difference in people’s lives when all hope is gone. The trick, however, is not to make babies change us. That’s too much work for the little things. The trick is for us to change the world for them before they get here. And, as much work as it is for us, it’s not too much to ask.
Merry Christmas, 2010.