Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Poor Baby

 "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." --Matthew 5:3

Last night my three-year-old spent some time in the middle of the night crying. I took him in bed with me and tried to figure out what was wrong. He was distressed, but too sleepy to tell me what was wrong or where it hurt. He wasn't feverish or clammy. He flopped as if he were in pain, but denied that his tummy or his bottom hurt. He wouldn't answer whether he'd had a bad dream. At one point he said he wanted to go downstairs, but then he came back and got in bed with me. I snuggled him and stroked his head and murmured, "Poor baby. Poor baby." And he fell asleep for the rest of the night, and in the morning was his usual dude self, tumbling all over the place, his midnight troubles forgotten. 

"Poor baby," I called him. Not because he was bereft of earthly goods or comfort. Not because he was starving. Not because he had nowhere to lay his head. Because he had all these things, and yet he was still in need. He didn't know what it was, and neither did I. But he knew he needed it.

We use the term poor all the time, and not as a curse or a slur. When my husband has had a hard day, I rub his head and call him "poor love". Not because we're literally poor, but because he is in need and I want to fill it. When my children are upset, hungry, weary, dismayed, I call them poor things, because they have a need that I do my best to fill. Sometimes the need is more than I can supply, except by offering love and the endearment of "poor thing". Sometimes I am the poor thing, and I need I know not what, something more than myself.

Jesus too became a poor thing, with needs that he could not fill on his own. The poverty of a baby is absolute, because it can do nothing for itself. It needs everything. The poverty of an adult is absolute as well, but we're better at disguising it, at convincing ourselves that we need less than others, that we have more than others. We can believe that we fill our own needs, whether through strength or through resources. We accumulate -- wealth, knowledge, connections, admirers, enemies -- to keep need at bay. And then we collapse, inevitably, and we crawl toward God humiliated and disgusted with ourselves, and He gathers us to himself and says, "Poor baby. Poor baby."

Simcha Fisher says: Hush, there's a baby nearby.

What if you remembered that you, yourself, were a little baby once, and even though you can feed and care for yourself now, you still deserve to be treated with gentleness, even if only by yourself? 

At all times of the year, but especially at Advent: It’s always about the person closes to us – or, if you like, it’s all about the baby nearby. And this is how we serve the Person who, liturgically speaking, is nearby, about to be born. We tell our kids that Christmas is Baby Jesus’ birthday, and the kind of presents he wants is for us to be good to each other — and yes, to ourselves. Sometimes the best kind of goodness we can offer is just a little gentleness, a soft touch, a decision not to make noise. A little hush, for the sake of the baby. This is a good way to make way for the Lord: With gentleness.

The baby is Jesus, the new Adam, containing within himself everyone that ever was or will be. And when we are poor in spirit, we discover within ourselves Jesus in his poverty: not something alien, someone to be "invited into our hearts" as if he had ever been something separate from us, but the one who took on our need from the inside. Poor, happy me. Poor, happy you. Poor baby. 

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