I must admit at first it threw me, competing with a portent. (What fools would treasure light instead of might?) Such naïveté: Scholars trekking here smitten with a star or some convergence of the cosmos. Yet another fire to put out.
I sent them on their way, their caravan rife with herbs I could have used myself. Camels balking and desert horses restless in the night. Meanwhile that star hummed like a lute, vibrating on a frequency I coveted but couldn’t always hear. I slammed the door, closed the shutters. No way would it make a shadow out of me. My wife said,
“No worries. They’ll be back. Anyway, what child can match your currency, your death squads? The bricks of that new temple? And Rome behind you? Get real.”
I pulled her close, forgetting which wife she was (nine? ten?) and glad to have her. Weeks later, when those wanderers failed to return, I glanced into my looking glass. The eyes staring back at me were nothing but blank gold coins.
I’ve always approached the slaughter of the innocents as a text that demands to be preached whether it’s in the lectionary year or not. Maybe that’s my privileged life talking there—that is, my life where all my children survived childhood without a serious threat. A life where weddings and baby showers are more frequent than funerals. A life where the stability of a home and regular meals were a given.
When my mother visited my church for the first time, a woman greeted her during the passing of the peace. Realizing that she was speaking to the pastor’s mother, the woman asked, “Just how many children do you have?”
“Six,” my mom responded. Then she hastily corrected herself. “Well, five who are living.” As she turned to the next person her eyes filled with tears.