On the Ninth Day of Christmas

Ever since Christmas, icy winds from Siberia have been sweeping across most of Canada. Sitting by my wood stove, cocooned in blankets, I have been content to be housebound, resting from the activity of travel and Christmas celebrations with friends and family.

All this week, CBC radio has offered Classical Music themed for Christmas. Once each hour a newscast breaks the spell. Mostly I manage to ignore reports so far removed from my life and concerns, until one item alerts me. It is repeated on each successive newscast, without variation, without comment.

Perhaps you heard the report. Perhaps you too feel the rawness of the dissonance: A group of refugees fleeing from Syria, hoping to enter the European Union, reached the borders of Croatia. Many had walked on Christmas Day in frigid weather along railway tracks. At the edge of Croatia armed border guards refused them entry…. Croatian officials blamed aid workers in Syria for this flood of refugees, claiming they had encouraged the refugees to approach Croatia as it is a Catholic country and would receive them.

In these post-Christmas days, I have been trying to process this happening, so at odds with the theme of the season’s songs, music, films, stories, with its powerful mythology of the birth of love on earth in a stable…..

All this day, I have been delving through segments of books, articles, poems, seeking others who are asking the same kind of questions: hoping to find a poet, a mystic, a theologian who might offer guidance. This is the first poem I found:

Christmas Poem
by Mary Oliver
Says a country legend told every year:
Go to the barn on Christmas Eve and see
what the creatures do as that long night tips over.
Down on their knees they will go, the fire
of an old memory whistling through their minds!
[So] I went. Wrapped to my eyes against the cold
I creaked back the barn door and peered in.
From town the church bells spilled their midnight music,
and the beasts listened –
yet they lay in their stalls like stone.
Oh the heretics!
Not to remember Bethlehem,
or the star as bright as a sun,
or the child born on a bed of straw!
To know only of the dissolving Now!
Still they drowsed on –
citizens of the pure, the physical world,
they loomed in the dark: powerful
of body, peaceful of mind,
innocent of history.
Brothers! I whispered. It is Christmas!
And you are no heretics, but a miracle,
immaculate still as when you thundered forth
on the morning of creation!

As for Bethlehem, that blazing star
still sailed the dark, but only looked for me.
Caught in its light, listening again to its story,
I curled against some sleepy beast, who nuzzled
my hair as though I were a child, and warmed me
the best it could all night.
_

It was comforting but could not heal the fracture I still felt of human failure to live the Christmas mystery.

I recall listening to the Brazilian theologian, Ivone Gebara, who spoke at Saint Paul University in Ottawa several years ago. I saw a woman whose heart had been pierced by the failure of her lifelong efforts to obtain justice for women in her own country. I went looking for what Ivone had written in her book Longing for Running Water about the mystery of the coming of Christ. I found this:

When we say Jesus is the symbol who fulfils our dreams, this does not mean that in him everything was worked out or fully accomplished. It is to say that we need to entrust our dreams to this man because we need these dreams, and we hope that their fulfillment is possible. We turn over to Jesus, a man, flesh of our flesh, the concrete possibility of a better world and of more just and equal relationships among people. Because of him, we throw in our lot for a world that embodies greater solidarity— but all the while we know this decision is our own. (p. 187)

(Jesus) is the symbol of the vulnerability of love, which in order to be alive, ends up being murdered, killed …and which then rises again in those who love him, in order to revive the vital cycle of love.

Jesus comes from here: from this earth, this body, this flesh, from the evolutionary process that is present both yesterday and today in this Sacred Body within which love resides. It continues in him beyond that, and it is turned into passion for life, into mercy and justice….

(T)he criteria of “giving life” and of fostering the “flowering” of life in dignity, diversity and respect are quite enough to give us the collective authority to speak in a different way of our experience as partners of Jesus. (p. 190)

As I re-read these words today, I feel a stirring of hope. All is not lost, not in vain. The task is still ours, the witness of a life lived wholly in love is still shining. Our failures are evidence that we have a long, long way to travel towards love. As long as our hearts can still be broken, we will keep walking towards the light revealed by one who lived in love.

Enchantment, dis-enchantment, re-enchantment….the Christmas experience works its yearly miracle of the heart, taking us back once again to the fragile radiant child for whom, in Christina Rossetti’s poem “a breast full of milk and a manger full of hay” are enough. Heartened, I look with fresh eyes at Mary Oliver’s poem about Christmas.

As for Bethlehem, that blazing star
still sailed the dark, but only looked for me.
Caught in its light, listening again to its story,pexels-photo-753561.jpeg
I curled against some sleepy beast, who nuzzled
my hair as though I were a child, and warmed me
the best it could all night.
_

 

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