Twelvenight: Rachel Weeps

One thing about the Fool. The Fool somersaults and tumbles, one minute leaping high, and then pratfalling underneath the table the very next. The Fool shows us our up-and-down-selves, our extremes, our fluctuations, our truth. The Fool may tell jokes, but in the next breath comes a story to break your heart and tear you open.

In the Christian tradition, the holy blessed silence and the ringing song, the quiet candlelight, and the stories of shepherds and magi, are followed by a story so terrible we can hardly encompass it. We want to look away. Please, let me get back to finishing the Christmas cookies and playing that funny new game. Let me get back to gazing at the twinkling tree with a cat on my lap and that new book in hand. But this story will not be ignored.

I am leading worship in church this Sunday, and even the lectionary can’t make up its mind. We begin with the Hallelujahs! All creation celebrates the coming of the Child of Promise! Holy, holy, holy.

Then we enter the doorway of the Gospel reading and everything changes. An angry king, desperate to hold onto his own power, hears of the birth of a new king and orders a genocide of baby boys. Our hearts read this part fast, and rush with the Holy Family through dark of night, across a border to a safer land. We turn our faces away from the carnage they have left behind. We cannot bear to look. Yet even as we approach the border to safety with the vulnerable Mary-Joseph-Jesus, we hear Rachel wailing in the distance behind us.

Through the long hallways of space and time, we can still hear her howling her grief-rage, her despair. Whenever atrocities occur, Rachel’s voice from Ramah, from Bethlehem, rises, howling despair through the hollow places in our bones.

Herod’s men have ridden throughout history, committing unmentionable atrocities in every land. Men’s histories speak of strategy and honor in war, omitting the rape of women and children, the murder of the innocents. Even today, textbooks in the United States tell children that slavery, while not a good thing, was a dreamy transaction that protected and provided for the enslaved, making little or no mention of the inhuman atrocities committed by the powerful against the powerless. Their history books tell of brave frontier communities battling fierce Native warriors, forgetting that it was the Europeans doing the invading, committing genocide against the communities that thrived here before them.

On this day in 1763, the Paxtang Boys mounted their horses for a second time, to finish the terrible job they began on the 14th of the month when they wiped out everyone–mostly elderly people and children–in the last village of Conestoga people in Lancaster County. On this day, while the people of Lancaster City were at holiday concerts and parties, the Paxtang Boys rode into Lancaster, bribed or threatened the jail-keeper (unless he was in league with them), and savagely murdered the remaining villagers–children, elders, and others who were being kept in the poorhouse for their own safety. Rachel’s voice sounded through the halls of history, for there was no one left of the Conestogas to howl and wail. The genocide was complete.

They were completely and utterly defenceless. They were scalped and dismembered. Their names were Kyunqueagoah, Koweenassee, Tenseedaagua, Kanianguas, Saquies-hat-tuh, Chee-na-wen, Quaachow, Shae-e-kah, Tong-quas, Ex-undas, Hy-ye-naes, Ko-qoa-e-un-quas, Karen-do-nah, and Canu-kie-sung.

Herod’s soldiers, and the slave-owners, and the Paxtang Boys all continued to live respectable lives in their communities, powerful and dignified. Rachel’s life, and her sisters’ lives down throughout history, have been inexorably altered, marked by the horrors of the brutality committed by “respectable law-abiding” citizens.

And today? Where are Herod’s men enforcing Herod’s lust for power against the powerless? Where are the Paxtang Boys, claiming to keep their communities safe from the Other, instead committing atrocities against the Other? They won’t look like wild and raging desperadoes. They’ll be cloaked in the garb of respectability and community sanction.

Can you hear Rachel weeping? Can you hear her howls rending the air? She is inconsolable.

Can we welcome the holy child of light and promise, and turn our faces away from children torn from their parents and placed in cages? Can we gaze on the graceful face of Mary and ignore the wailing of her sister Rachel, her sisters Maria and Raquel and Isabella and Jimena?

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