Lamentation and Weeping in Newtown

navez, massacre of the innocents

Francois Joseph Navez, “Massacre of the Innocents” (1824)

No words can capture the horror and the sadness of the killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Yet words are what we have, and as this is the Christmas season, I am reminded of the slaughter of the innocents that followed the first Christmas. King Herod, told by the wise men that a king had been born and fearing a future rival, ordered the slaughter of all newborn babies.  Israel is personified as Rachel in the passage from Matthew (2:18):

In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, 
Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not. (Matthew 2:18)

This passage is referred to in Moby Dick as Captain Ahab meets Captain Gardiner, captain of the Rachel. Gardiner has lost his 12-year-old son overboard and is obsessively searching for him—as the parents rushing to Sandy Hook Elementary School desperately searched for theirs. Gardiner asks for Ahab’s help but Ahab is so obsessed with his quest for the White Whale that he refuses. Ishamel looks back at the Rachel as it sails away:

But by her still halting course and winding, woeful way, you plainly saw that this ship that so wept with spray, still remained without comfort. She was Rachel, weeping for her children, because they were not.

To this oceanic sadness I add my anger at anyone who, because of political expedience, avarice or other base motives, refuses to seriously grapple with America’s gun problem, especially the easy access to automatic weapons. That person has no place at the funerals of these children. As a raging Wilfred Owen said to those responsible for sending thousands of young men to their deaths in the World War I trenches,

Weep, you may weep, for you may touch them not.

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  • Barbara

    I grew up a few miles from Newtown and because of that, perhaps, this has hit me especially hard. I know some one who interviewed for a the principal position in the town (not the same school). I am outraged by the commentary saying that God would have protected the children but he (obviously a male god) had been excluded from our public schools. (No mention was made about why the Amish school girls who were murdered in their school a few years ago hadn’t been protected).

  • I haven’t heard the “God would have protected” comment, but I have heard people saying in other contexts that we need guns to protect ourselves from the gun wielders–as if the kindergarteners and elementary school teachers should have been armed, or as if the mother of the shooter should have been. I am also so disturbed to hear people talk about “evil,” especially in this case, where the shooter was clearly mentally ill. And I am baffled to hear people say, “This is not the time to politicize the issue, or to talk about gun control.” If not now, when? When there HASN’T just been a massacre because someone who was suicidally depressed got access to a weapon that allows massive killing in a few moments?

    I’m also baffled by the comparison made to cars, that cars kill more people than guns. Yes, and we have speed limits, and drunk-driving laws. And if there are lots of drunk-driving deaths in a community, they start doing things like sending more police officers to bars, or making the bartenders responsible for taking away car keys, or taking away the licenses of drunk drivers for longer periods. No one confuses these responses with “the government won’t let me drive.” No one even objects to the government requiring you to have a LICENSE to drive (except maybe some fringe groups that don’t yet have access to the national media).

    I wish someone could explain why gun control is such a profoundly emotional–hysterical–issue in U.S. politics. I understand other types of political hysteria, but I really don’t get this one. If gun control laws made it difficult for people to own hunting rifles or even “personal-defense” handguns, I could understand it. But why the hysteria over not being allowed to own automatic weapons? It clearly touches something very deep for some people, but I don’t get what that is.

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  • Christy at ROS

    Hi Dr. Bates,
    Although I have not previously commented, I greatly enjoy your blog and the weekly newsletter recaps you send out. I mentioned your blog and quoted from the above in a post of my own today. I see the trackback, but I wanted to be sure to thank you and let you know how much I appreciate your work.
    Grateful reader,

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