A Slice of Hope

Gilbert Berg imagines the helpless children of Bethlehem during Herod’s reign and wonders what would happen if he, a military underling, chose to disobey a commander’s order because of the wish to save innocent children.

The poem arises from Gilbert’s belief that negotiation is preferable to the forceful imposition of one’s wish, that peacemaking is preferable to subjugation, and that civil disobedience and risking one’s own life is preferable in juxtaposition to the senseless destruction of innocent children. The feast of the Holy Innocents is normally observed on December 28.

If I were on the streets of Bethlehem tonight

A soldier under orders from the king

Rachel Weeping
Rachel Weeping

His ruthless words still ringing in my ears,

“Get all the children two years or less

Don’t spare – don’t wait!”

One hundred strong command the quiet town

Glistening shields and swords belie

The hidden questions and the quake of soul.

We bring news of terror and of tears –

In groups of ten the evil deeds are done

In my mind the mental turmoil

Turns my stomach into knots

Who can end the life of one unspoiled

One so trusting and content

One with voice unschooled and powerless

In halls that shine with shallow pomp.

The king’s command rings loud and hollow – 

Two voices competing for allegiance.

Each of us assigned one silent street

My street – ten homes with children

The first door  – closed, locked

Inside a fearful, anxious family

Three children, seven years, four and one

A quiet knock, a breathless wait.

The door is opened – a trembling family cowers.

A wordless, deathly stillness –

“I have good news; your baby will not die!”

I leave

I close the door

And nine more homes can breathe in stillness once again.

In my soul the knot unwinds

And peace returns – at least to me

And ten other tiny worlds of hope.

Gilbert Berg is a parishioner at st. benedict’s table.

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