Holy Babies!

Holy Babies! December 19, 2013

I recently taught a class on World Religions, at least a few of them, with the theme “Rivers of Wisdom.” Lots of water; some refreshing and clean; some muddy or stagnant or polluted. But there IS water, there IS wisdom to be found in the ancient rivers. We may need to test it before sipping. It seems the wise thing to do. You never know.

Wisely comparing rivers got me thinking: while we’re ahhing and awe-ing over the Bethlehem baby in the very un-stable manger, what about the other babies in the history of wisdom? What about baby Abraham and baby Sarah in Iraq; or baby Moses floating in that reed basket on the Egyptian river; or baby Buddha or baby Krishna of India, baby Confucius of China or baby Muhammad in Arabia? And all the female babies forgotten in those stories? What about these infants in the childhood of the human family? Why pick just one Wee One of Wisdom?

I just read that archaeologists seem to have found a shrine around an ancient tree in Lumbini (Nepal) where Baby Buddha may have been born (can we hear the giggly, gurgling sounds echoing–wakefully–through the centuries?). The crumbling cave where Baby Confucius is thought to have been born on Mount Ni near Qufu in China makes the smelly stable in Bethlehem look like a palace. There is now a library in Mecca, Saudi Arabia on the site of Baby Muhammad’s birth. That seems respectable.

The rivers of history have presented us with many Nativities to investigate, commemorate and, if we so choose, celebrate.

What do we do with Baby Religion? When faith gathers around a child, a “special” or “divine” child, what does this mean for us? Does it mean we should, as one of those toddlers grew up to say, “become as little children to enter your Daddy’s and Mommy’s house”? What if faith remains in the nursery, in awe of the sweet, snuggly, cuddly God we just want to squeeze? “I could just EAT him up!” And some do.

Then, what happens when the little boogernose grows up to be a respected teacher who says things like, “you must be born again”? What then? Starting over isn’t really possible, but seeing Life more simply is. Could this be part of the meaning? Not sure. Babies are fragile, vulnerable, innocent. Like tiny, wide-eyed wild animals living by instinct, without reason, taking in the big world around them with wonder and fear. Wonder and fear–integral elements of infant faith. So many reaching for the great Mom or Dad in the sky, crying for the cosmic parent. “Our Father Who art watching over and protecting me: ME!” It’s all about ME when you’re a baby. For crying out loud, we’d love to stay warm and safe in the Great Womb and whine when we can’t get back in. We’re such whiners, aren’t we?

Like our decisions about the holidays, we have a choice to get caught up with these Mini-Gods in diapers or we can decide on something different. We can save our sanity (and our savings) or we can shop the spiritual supermarkets looking for supernatural sales. We can ride camels with the Wise (Zoroastrian) Philosophers back to the big scary adult world or stay with the sheep in the dark stables and nurseries nursing our comforting, childlike beliefs. We can choose to celebrate every birth as “sacred,” every child as a unique gift to the world, or we can continue this age-old silliness of elevating a handful of ancient babes above all others and say the stars shine especially on their little faces. It’s still our choice. I think we should choose carefully. There are no guarantees when we outgrow our cribs, our swaddling cloths and our beloved bedtime stories.

Here’s a thought, a suggestion: Why not celebrate the wonder and leave the fear? Sounds like a wonderful idea to me. Maybe a couple of the Holy Babies would think so too. It’s a wonder-filled time of year. Nature puts on quite a show for adults and children alike!

Let’s try to keep some of our childlike fascination and imagination, even as we live as grownups in a world that needs all the balanced wisdom, responsible decisions and reasonable action of adults it can get.

Here’s my Winter Wish for you, for us, for our world:

“Green be your woods, and fair your flowers,

Your waters never drumlie (muddy).”

~Robert Burns

{Oh, and please remember, you really don’t have to kill more conifers or consume more creatures–babies or adults–to enjoy the great natural beauty of this Solstice Season.}

{Oh2:  Fun Historical Facts to Discuss around Your Holiday Table:  Baby Abe and Baby Moses were not Jews; Baby Buddha was not Buddhist; Baby Yeshua was not Christian; Baby Muhammad was not Muslim.  Babies (children) are not born believers. And (this fact especially for Europeans and Americans):  none of these Holy Babies had light skin, spoke English or ever read the Bible or went to Church.  Aren’t facts fun!}

Chris Highland was born on Christmas Day over a half-century ago. He was an ordained protestant minister for fourteen years and an interfaith chaplain for over twenty. He is a non-theistic freethinker who is not anti-religious. He is critical of nonsensical faith but cheerfully respectful of anyone, faith or no faith, who seeks a reasonable, collaborative way of justice and lovingkindness.

Chris is the author of six nature meditation books, a spiritual autobiography, a novel, a book of reflections on homelessness and a collection of poetry.  Selections from his new e-book of essays can be read at Nature is EnoughHe is a teacher, writer and social worker in the SF Bay Area. Visit Chris’ blog here. 


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