One of the most haunting and touching collisions of the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament happens in the Gospel of Matthew where the writer recounts Herod’s rage over the birth of Christ, and the tragic resulting aftermath.
The story is well-known, of course. Herod goes on a rampage and kills all the young boys three years of age and under throughout Bethlehem. This horrific episode is captured in the Christmas carol, “Lully, Lullay,” an ancient song written for a long-lost nativity play that towns and villages would put on during Christmastide.
This song, with the minor tone and lullaby lyrics, “Lully, Lullay, thou little tiny child/bye bye lully, lullay…” is meant to mimic the quiet song the mothers of Bethlehem sang to their little ones to keep them quiet while soldiers went door to door searching for children to kill.
The writer of Matthew, as he is wont to do, overlays Hebrew Scripture prophecy on the scene, recalling an obscure verse from Jeremiah 31 where Rachel, the seminal matriarch of the Hebrew people is crying over the death and exile of her descendants. “She cries,” the prophet shouts, “and she refuses to be comforted.”
She refuses to be comforted.
This whole scene has always moved me, and does so even more so now that I have my own children. It is striking. It is raw. It is a commentary on political power and political fear. It is a testament to the endearing love of mothers, of all parents, for their babies.
I am currently in a program where I’m learning to effectively coach people who are in the process of dying, or who are grieving over those who have died. We talk a lot about the process of death and grief, about saying goodbye well and remembering well.
And we talk a lot about the fact that the dying and the grieving don’t want our pity, and they don’t need our platitudes. After all, a euphemism or a trite moralism is just another way of saying that you don’t know how to care.
Caring doesn’t mean patching over grief, but about walking into the valley of the shadow of death with someone else so that they don’t have to do it alone, by God.
Being in this course (and, by the way, if you’re in need of someone to walk with you in grief, death, or dying, don’t hesitate to reach out), I was reminded of an old midrash, a tale that I know I heard somewhere but that I can’t now place.
It talks of Rachel, and of her seeing the devastation of her ancestors, her babies, and seeking out someone to cry with her. She goes to the patriarchs, but they will not do it. She goes to the angels, but they can’t grieve with her. She finally goes to God and says, “And you? Will you not grieve with me?” And God, in Divine mercy, weeps with her into the night, not consoling her (she refused to be consoled), but simply weeping alongside her.
And that made all the difference.
Rachel didn’t need someone to make her feel better, and she didn’t need someone to “fix” her…she wasn’t “broken.”
She was grieving. Her heart was broken, and that can’t be fixed in any other way than by walking through that valley and grief, and she needed someone to walk with her, to hear her tell the stories of her babies, of her ancestors, to laugh as she pulled out picture after picture, and to cry as she missed them in the night.
I know why Rachel refused to be consoled. I know why Rachel wanted someone to just cry with her.
I’m thinking these days of all the anger and hurt and grief we’re all experiencing today. The losses of normalcy, those loved ones lost to the pandemic and our collective inaction.
I’m thinking these days of the way we assault one another, of how we refuse to hear other perspectives and so easily fall into the trap of conspiracies and group thought that promises easy outs and secret remedies.
We’re grieving, Beloved. We’re grieving.
And what we need to do is, like Rachel, refuse to be consoled for a bit. We need to just let it out, to cry a bit, to stop hanging our hopes on every tilting windmill and instead sit and just be with it all for a little. damn. while.
I know why Rachel refuses to be consoled.
I’m refusing, too.
Thank you for this. This is beautiful, haunting. Necessary.