Sacrificing Our Children

by Philip Levine

During the past weeks the shootings of young students and a teacher in Jonesboro, Arkansas and the suicides of two high school students here in Maine have evoked a lot of pain. Once again a chorus of questions asks why did it happen and how can we prevent it from happening again.

These tragic losses of the young hurt us more than natural death because we see lives lost before potential has been realized. These children have not had and never will have the opportunity to try life and leave their mark as adults.

Consider that these very visible and heart-breaking cases are the shocking evidence of a much larger and deeper problem. Our children are not being cared for in ways that they need. The ones who survive, who don’t take a gun or commit suicide, are still suffering from a lack of recognition, of respect.

Experts argue whether it is the violence on television or the availability of guns or lower education standards that are at the root of such troubles. Perhaps we need to change our perspective if we ever hope to stem the rising tide of senseless violence and disrespect for life.

Instead of debating about what we need to DO, it might be time to begin asking who we need to BE.

In ancient times in Greece, where the gods and goddesses were worshipped, when a tragedy befell the innocent, it was assumed that the cause was that the gods had been angered. And the common cause for this angry response was usually believed to be neglect – that the gods had not been honored, respected, given their due.

While we now live in a time that can no longer accept the possibility of gods and goddesses – or for many, any higher Power whatsoever – it is important that we reconsider the potential wisdom of such a belief. We lost our ability to believe when science began to ask, "If there are such gods, then where are they to be found?" "What proof do we have?" "Has anyone ever seen one?"

Perhaps their gods represent interior parts of us that have been ignored.

Whether or not the Greek gods exist (or any other religion’s) we must admit that there are aspects of life that are beyond our control and that can intervene in powerful and unexpected ways. Perhaps the Greeks (or all religions, for that matter) simply did the best they could to understand and to relate to these forces by personifying them. The fact that we cannot scientifically prove their model does not negate the existence of these forces that move us from within.

The Greek myth of the minotaur tells of how once a year the ships came from King Minos’ kingdom on Crete to gather children to be brought back to be sacrificed to the monstrous bull-headed minotaur. And this creature was created because Poseidon, god of the sea, was angered at having been cheated by the King who promised to sacrifice his best white bull (which Poseidon had given him) but substituted another.

We are sacrificing our children because we are either unwilling or unable to honor our inner world anymore. Our problems need us to honor the creative source found within. Our souls are drying up because of the belief that a life is made meaningful only by the pursuit of material objects or glamour or fame. And the children suffer first.

To deny that we are subject to the apparent whims of mysterious and uncontrollable inner forces is dangerous in the extreme. Yet that is what our culture seems to be doing. How long can we continue our denial in the face of the painful evidence to the contrary?

Exactly what do we as a nation do to honor these powers or forces? We must begin to teach our children to develop a relationship with their inner world of feeling, thought and imagination.

In earlier less violent times, Sundays and holidays were days for prayer and reflection. Now these days are a chance to go shopping or run errands that cannot be done during the week.

 

Do we as a community offer one week, one day, one hour, or even one minute of our lives to honor that which is bigger, deeper, more mysterious and unknown than our daily lives? To be humble? To be respectful?

Our children need us to show them that the inner person is to be respected and honored if it is to be understood.

There is no space in our lives – largely based on the pursuit of money, information, and material objects – for looking inward, either as individuals or as a community.

Our children, who have not been born with our collective madness and lack of spiritual roots, find themselves starved for the nourishment they need. They witness most of us running frantically toward something quite shallow and unfulfilling, if we are indeed even pursuing anything at all. Is our country, as a whole, pursuing a goal, following a higher ideal? Or are we fleeing, in fear, the truth of our emptiness and the dread of inactivity?

This is a dangerous imbalance and indicates that we are sick as a society. These violent events are symptoms. Stuffing our emptiness with more 'things' is not the answer. Trying to find a solution only in more and more external programs and activities does not address this core problem.

Reaching inside ourselves to our human nature, to the border between what we know and what we don’t, we may be able to hear a guiding voice, to glimpse a healing vision.

Our children are dying, inside and out. Do we care? Really care?

We need to teach them how to reflect, to meditate, to understand and to contain their often conflictual and chaotic inner world of feeling and fantasy. Is this not the place where the urge to do violence to themselves or others arises?

What are you willing to do to save a child? To save the children all around us?

 

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1998 Philip Levine