When the Saints go Marching In

My thoughts began with Julia's eloquent post. I have been thinking for 3 months, while this post has resided in my drafts folder. It came up again today as I spoke to a friend. These are not the sum total of answers. This isn't theology. If you are looking for a neat package, I'd suggest that you consult Aquinas and Anselm. But, a few weeks ago, Becky declared the need for honesty. And I have been asking why babies die. So, with those provisos. . . . .

God did not save my son.

God, who raised Lazarus, who raised Jarius' daughter, who saved his Son, did not spare mine. I believe he could have. I believe in miracles. Then, and now. I cannot conceive of a God who used to raise people from the dead, and then suddenly, arbitrarily stopped. And if God could have stretched out his hand, if he could have and did not - what answer can I possibly have, other than to say God killed my son. Not murder, no. But I bet I could make a good case for negligent homicide.

I've spoken of it before: as I was in a tiny room, learning that my son would die, as Mr. Spit was hearing that I might die, there was a woman in the next bed.

She was 34 weeks pregnant, or around that, the perinatologist thought. She wasn't actually sure when she got pregnant. Given that she had no pre-natal care, no pre-natal vitamins, it was hard to tell. She was arguing with the nurse - she wanted to stop the NST so that she could go have a cigarette. She'd had a couple of beers the night before. She wasn't married, she had 4 children already, by four different fathers. She was on social assistance. She wasn't going to breast feed, and couldn't they just section her now? She was tired of being pregnant.


Mr. Spit and I. University educated. Good jobs. Own a house and a car. Financially stable. Regular church attendees. Educated about pregnancy and child birth. We pay our taxes. More than our share probably. We volunteer, in our community, in the inner city. We donate of our own blood. We are caring. Good friends. Bake casseroles for those in need. We show compassion and mercy. We would have raised our child in the church. We are good people. We do our best. Our child would have wanted for nothing. Braces, soccer, ballet, tutoring, enrichment, university, we would have been able to afford it. There would have been presents under the tree at Christmas. Discipline, love, prayers, stories read and hugs given. We are not monsters, we would have cherished this child we waited 5 years for. He would have been the joy of our lives, the apple of our eye. Loved beyond all comprehension.

She went home with a baby, and I, in the horrific way of tragedies, went home with empty arms.
We seek for answers when tragedy strikes. Why her, and not me? We look for nice and simple packages. An explanation. A thing that says: this - this is why tragedy happened. And perhaps, I think, if we decide we know why, we think we have regained a little bit of control over our world. Tragedy is tragedy because it turns what we know, what we believe, the bedrock of our life, inside out and upside down.

I think of the prayers offered for us. The hundreds of people who prayed. At church, in our lives. Friends who do not pray, who offered up their fervent desire that we would escape this tragedy. I think of a friend who told me of kneeling by her bed. Past any sense of decorum, propriety. Sobbing. Begging, imploring, pleading.

I think of my own prayers on Sunday night. Of sobbing, wailing. Cries to let God know my heart was rent in two. Cries that were not coherent words, thoughts. Cries that bartered. If God would save my son, I would do anything he asked of me. Anything. There was nothing he could not take from me, nothing he could do to me, nothing I would not bear, only please, I begged, from the bottom of a life-carriers heart, please, spare my son.

24 hours later, my tiny, frail son, was born. With an Apgar of 1. An apgar he received because he was breathing, in flimsy, feeble gasps. One every minute or so. Then every five minutes. And then he was gone. Life that Mr. Spit and I had bred into his body joyfully, exuberantly, with promises and celebration. Life that didn't even open his eyes, to see his mother's tears. Life that was gone.

I think of those prayers, and I think of a room filled to the brim with sorrow and gall. And I know, from the bottom of my heart, I did not receive what I deserved. For my son, I will stand up and say that he deserved life. Even if I was so terrible that I could not be permitted to bear a child, the soul that was Gabriel, he deserved life.

And I am left with a sense of bewilderment. How could God not hear our prayers? There were thousands. Hundreds of thousands. I imagine that many prayers bombarding God. A series of phones that do not stop ringing. Emails, faxes, telegrams, carrier pigeons. Was God not looking during all that space? Was He busy? Playing chess? Caught up in the human rights abuses in China? Was He too busy answering prayers for parking stalls in Christmas-crowded parking lots? What happened that He was too pressed to spend the millisecond it would have taken to save Gabriel.

And I wonder, who prayed for the baby of the woman next to me? Anyone? I did. I prayed that in the midst of my sorrow, that baby would arrive safely. Not out of spirit of love and compassion, but selfishness. I could not bear for another baby to die. How could it be that my voice was the only one beseeching for this child to live, and that God would hear my single prayer, offered for selfish reasons, but not hear the bounty of prayers for Gabriel?

This reflection does not answer any question, much less the terrible, awful, heart rending question. How could God deal so brutally, so unfairly with his children. How could he strip the life we created from us, when He, created us? How in the face of horrible tragedy, could I, could anyone maintain that God is intimately involved in the world?

Tragedy, entered into, grappled with, as we struggle to understand it, changes how we understand ourselves and how we understand God. The process is messy, full of pain and raw human emotion. Tragedy, grappled with, leaves us different people. We are no longer Jacob, we become Israel, with a different set of questions, and a hip that reminds us of the power of God.

I have only a moment of clarity. Of walking out of a downtown office tower, into a warm summer day. I can see a bright blue prairie sky, a blue so impossibly blue it takes your breath away. I can smell lilacs. And I can hear a singer, on the street corner. Playing a saxophone. When the Saints Go Marching In. And he is dancing around. He is playing with pure distilled joy.

Thou only art immortal, the creator and maker of mankind; and we are mortal, formed of the earth, and unto earth shall we return. For so thou didst ordain when thou createdst me, saying, Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.. All we go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.
Into thy hands, O merciful Savior, we commend thy servant Gabriel. Acknowledge, we humbly beseech thee, a sheep of thine own fold, a lamb of thine own flock, a sinner of thine own redeeming. Receive him into the arms of thy mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light.