The Bully and the Baby

Young Tom would come to class with a hat pulled down over his eyes, and he never smiled. In and out of foster homes for many years, this young boy was very lonely and very angry. Mean to his classmates, belligerent, disruptive in class – he had no friends. When the Roots of Empathy Instructor brought a young single mom and baby to the class, the teacher was worried that Tom might harm the baby. Upon the advice of the ROE staff, he was placed right next to the baby. Imagine Tom’s reaction when the baby smiled at him. During the first class visit, the boy smiled and interacted with the infant. During the second visit, he took off his hat when he was near the baby. And, at the third visit, he brought a dirty pink feather to tickle the bottom of the baby’s feet. What Canadian founder of Roots of Empathy, Mary Gordon, has discovered is the disarming power of the infant in the presence of the bully.

And one starry night in a stable in Bethlehem a young mother gave birth to a baby whom the Prophet said will be called Immanuel, God is with us. Into the power hungry world, of gladiator fights and public executions, God came humble, meek and weak. The aggression became so intense she had to flee to the desert for a while to escape.

I love the story of Christmas but how can I get my head and heart around the mystery of the creator of the universe nursing on Mary’s lap? Christmas, it seems, is meant to disarm us, to leave us defenceless in his presence.

One of the church fathers has beautifully stated it like this,

“Nature teaches us all the value of infancy. Over what barbarity is infancy not victorious? Father’s know it well and mothers feel it, everyone experiences it, man’s very bowels bear witness to the fact. And so it was in infancy that He wanted to be born. He wanted to be loved, not feared.”

We all have a shadow side, a nemesis that if left not owned and reclaimed, could potentially destroy us, just as the person who cannot identify with weakness, becomes a bully and their rage at weakness causes their downfall. In taking upon himself the full weakness of human form, Jesus shifted human power structures forever. In Christ, crying in the manger and dying in weakness on the cross, we are invited to embrace our shadow side and discover his grace and acceptance. The Christian call is not to move away from being human but is an appeal to a fuller more complete humanity, as we were created to be.

“Did You wrap yourself inside the unexpected so we might know that Love would go that far?” ― Francesca Battistelli