By Rita Henley Jensen
WeNews editor in chief
Wednesday, December 25, 2013
The Judean desert was full of perils and hardship for a 9-month pregnant Jewish woman struggling to reach Bethlehem for the Roman census. We follow that same female trek of endurance in our watch over Syrian refugees in Jordan, U.S. women in maternity wards.
Credit: MRBECK on Flickr, under Creative Commons
NEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS)--The deepening snow outside my window, the day I wrote this, was being scrapped away by noisy dump trucks; a lone building superintendent tossed salt on the driveway. I watched as a mother walked by with her child; he looked to be about 10. Both were protected from the biting wind off the river with thick hats and coats, feet shod in what looked to be sturdy boots. She slipped and fell on the icy sidewalk. The child paused for a moment, uncertain at first, and then began to help his mother up. The two quickly decided to take another path.
The news that same day let me know that Bethlehem was buried in deep snow too; as were the Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan. Somehow, the snow and the chill here as well as in Israel, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon called up the images from my Catholic childhood that depicted Mary on a donkey, wrapped in a woolen cloak, on a 90-mile journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem to register for the Roman census.
That recent day I was preparing to attend a holiday concert with friends--I go every year--that recounts the birth of Jesus and Herod's brutal massacre of the Jewish infants.
I stopped. What did I know of Mary's journey, 9-months pregnant, in the cold, cold winter, on a donkey's back? What music honors her bravery, her despair, her fear? Did she slip and fall as she traversed the hills that surround Jerusalem? Did it snow? Was she wet, cold and hungry at night, when the temperature dropped?
The trip through the Judean desert would have taken place during the winter and much of it was uphill and downhill, James F. Strange, a New Testament and biblical archeology professor at the University of South Florida in Tampa, told the Religious News Service. "It's in the 30s during the day [and] rains like heck," he added. "It's nasty, miserable. And at night it would be freezing."
But that's not all Strange said. Jordan's forests had lions, bears and wild boars; also roving bands of thieves.
Mary survived, gave birth in a cave and the infant lived to become a refugee. As word of Herod's massacre of male Jewish infants spread, Mary, Joseph and the infant joined other refugees and fled to Egypt. Rachel's aria in the concert I was about to attend expresses the grief of all the mothers whose infant sons were slain by Herod's forces. The power of her emotion expressed by a brilliant soprano moves most of the audience to tears, including me.
This year, for the first time, I took note that Mary was celebrated only for being a virgin mother, not for her endurance and her gift of survival.
As many of you know, Women's eNews assigned a three-person team to report on female Syrian refugees living in Jordan. In the recorded oral histories, news stories and videos, the women told of the misery and sometimes horrors of their journey to Jordan, of living in tents with their families in a foreign country. Those we interviewed and filmed are now living in tents, covered with snow.
Women's eNews has also focused on maternal health throughout the year, including the toll stress can take on pregnant women and their infants, dramatically increasing their risk of death and chronic illness. How did Mary stay calm enough through the journey to ensure the survival of her infant and of herself?
On this snowy day when I will celebrate with dear friends, I cannot help but feel a strong connection to the now freezing Syrian refugees our team interviewed, fleeing the type of genocidal violence Herod perpetrated in the Massacre of the Infants.
As I put on my own woolen garment to take a short walk to the concert, I looked around for my extra-warm pair of gloves. "I am so rich," I thought. "I have two pairs of warm gloves. Two pairs!"
If only I could give one pair, and even one of my woolen coats, to a pregnant woman living as a refugee from genocidal violence. If only. They are too far away; my tiny gift wouldn't reach them in time. If I only could give them safety, warmth, food, peace. Beyond my reach, too.
Instead, Women's eNews' writers will continue to tell their stories, knowing that Mary and Rachel have come to embody the experiences of women and children whose lives are threatened by the wars around them. And together we will continue to believe that in doing so, Women's eNews is a powerful influence toward that day when women and their allies will be able to say to the Herods of this world: No more.
Until that day arrives, I know both you and I will continue to work for the possibility of peace and generosity this holiday celebrates. Thank you.
Rita Henley Jensen is founder and editor in chief of Women's eNews.
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