Category Archives: Christmas Rebirth

Post-Christmas

December 31, 2019

 

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,

Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;

Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,

In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

 

Christina Rossetti’s poem rises in me as I sit here at my computer, facing the window where “snow (has) fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow”. On this bleak mid-winter, post-Christmas day, I am wondering what words to send out to you, words that might bring hope, awaken joy, remind us all of the work that awaits us now that Christmas has come.

One Christmas morning a few years ago, my family’s pastor and friend Father Michael recalled words of Pope Francis. Speaking of Christmas celebrations, Francis called them a “sham” when we live in the midst of a world so riddled with wars. “Grinch” was Michael’s first response to the Pope’s words, he admitted…but he went on to accept the challenge that Francis issued. Michael ended his Christmas homily with a poem by American theologian Howard Thurman:

When the star in the sky is gone,
When the Kings and Princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost
To heal the broken
To feed the hungry
To release the prisoner
To teach the nations
To bring Christ to all
To make music in the heart.

 

Now the work of Christmas begins…that awareness sends me to seek guidance from other writers whose words illumine our lives. I turn first to Jean Houston, to a Christmas message posted a few years back on her Facebook page:

Throughout history and all over the world, people have felt a yearning to be more, a longing to push the membrane of the possible. Never so much more as those living today. People feel called to a life of new being. Much of the urgency that you may have felt these last years moving between stress and distress, the sense of living in an outmoded condition, the exhilaration before what is not yet, the dread of leaving the womb of the old era – comes from the birth pangs of a human and social evolution that is upon us.

 

Birth is a journey. Second birth is as great a journey. In the womb of new becoming it means laying down new pathways in the body and in the senses to take in the news of this remarkable world. It means extending the field of your psychology so that there is more of you to do so much of this. It demands that you choose a richer, juicier story, even a new myth, by which to comprehend your life and that you begin to live out of it. And, most important of all, it asks that you be sourced and re-sourced in God, spirit, the cosmic mind, the quantum field, – the love that moves the sun and all of the stars.

 

In the same spirit the poet Rilke urges:

 

Please celebrate this Christmas with the earnest faith that (God) may need this very anguish of yours in order to begin….Be patient and without resentment, and know that the least we can do is to make His Becoming no more difficult than Earth makes it for spring when it wants to arrive. Be comforted and glad. (Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke)

 

You and I hold within us such immense promise, such impossible possibility, in the “womb of new becoming” that Jean describes. Already we have experienced moments of knowing the “richer juicier story”, the “new myth” that we are invited to choose, to live. Already we have experienced moments of knowing ourselves sourced in “the love that moves the sun and all of the stars”. So let us “be comforted and glad” as we open to the newness descending into our heart’s womb, falling like “snow on snow” until all the space is filled with new life.

 

I offer to you a blessing for your new life, in these words

that poet Jan L. Richardson imagines Elizabeth speaking to Mary:

In blood

be thou blessed.

In flesh

be thou blessed.

In all you choose

in all you hold

in all you gather to you

be thou blessed.

In all you release

in all you return

in all you cast from you

be thou blessed.

In all that takes form in you

be blessed

in all that comes forth from you

be blessed;

in all thy paths

be thou forever blessed.

Nativity

 Reflection for December 24, 2019

 On this Christmas eve, only a mystic or a poet might find words to offer us. Tonight we have such a gift from both John O’donohue and from Teilhard de Chardin

John O’donohue opens to our imagination Mary’s experience on this sacred night:  “Nativity”

No man reaches where the moon touches a woman.

Even the moon leaves her when she opens

Deeper into the ripple in her womb

That encircles dark to become flesh and bone.

Someone is coming ashore inside her.

A face deciphers itself from water

And she curves around the gathering wave,

Opening to offer the life it craves.

In a corner stall of pilgrim strangers,

She falls and heaves, holding a tide of tears.

A red wire of pain feeds through every vein

Until night unweaves and the child reaches dawn.

Outside each other now, she sees him first.

Flesh of her flesh, her dreamt son safe on earth.

John O’Donohue, Connemara Blues Doubleday, Great Britain, 2000

 Gazing into the mind, heart, and mystical, poetic soul of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, I wonder how he would mark the celebration of Christmas. As a brilliant scientist, creative thinker, man of faith, Teilhard brings into harmony recent discoveries about an evolving universe. His faith in the Christic presence is at the heart of it all.

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Christmas for Teilhard is a celebration of the eruption of divine love into space-time.

But how would Teilhard himself speak about the mystery of Incarnation? Let’s bend space-time imaginally to place ourselves in a small Jesuit Chapel somewhere in France, just after the Second World War. Father Pierre Teilhard de Chardin walks to the pulpit to give the Christmas homily.  At first, his words sound like an overture to the symphony we have come to hear.

 

I shall allow … (a) picture to emerge — at first in apparent opposition to the dreams of the Earth, but in reality to complete and correct them — that of the inexpressible Cosmos of matter and of the new life, the Body of Christ, real and mystical, unity and multiplicity, monad and Pleiad. And, like a man who surrenders himself to a succession of different melodies, I shall let the song of my life drift now here, now there — sink down to the depths, rise to the heights above us, turn back to the ether from which all things came, reach out to the more-than-man, and culminate in the incarnate God-man.” (1)

 

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The Incarnation is a making new, a restoration, of all the universe’s forces and powers; Christ is the Instrument, the Centre, the End, of the whole of animate and material creation; through Him, everything is created, sanctified and vivified. This is the constant and general teaching of St. John and St. Paul (that most “cosmic” of sacred writers), and it has passed into the most solemn formulas of the Liturgy: and yet we repeat it, and generations to come will go on repeating it, without ever being able to grasp or appreciate its profound and mysterious significance, bound up as it is with understanding of the universe.

 

With the origin of all things, there began an advent of recollection and work in the course of which the forces of determinism, obediently and lovingly, lent themselves and directed themselves in the preparation of a Fruit that exceeded all hope and yet was awaited. The world’s energies and substances – so harmoniously adapted and controlled that the supreme Transcendent would seem to germinate entirely from their immanence—concentrated and were purified in the stock of Jesse; from their accumulated and distilled treasures, they produced the glittering gem of matter, the Pearl of the Cosmos, and the link with the incarnate personal Absolute—the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen and Mother of all things, the true Demeter… and when the day of the Virgin came to pass, then the final purpose of the universe, deep-rooted and gratuitous, was suddenly made clear: since the days when the first breath of individualization passed over the expanse of the Supreme Centre here below so that in it could be seen the ripple of the smile of the original monads, all things were moving towards the Child born of Woman.

 

And since Christ was born and ceased to grow, and died, everything has continued in motion because he has not yet attained the fullness of his form. He has not gathered about him the last folds of the garment of flesh and love woven for him by his faithful. The Mystical Christ has not reached the peak of his growth…and it is in the continuation of this engendering that there lies the ultimate driving force behind all created activity…Christ is the term of even the natural evolution of living beings. (2)   

 

 We leave the little chapel, our hearts ablaze. Now we truly have something to celebrate at Christmas.  Now too we have a task: co-creating, and through our own embodied lives bringing divine love more fully into every aspect of life on our planet. This could take some time. At the very least, it could take the rest of our lives!

 

(1)– Teilhard de Chardin, Writings in Time of War, pp. 15-16

(2)Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in The Future of Man translated from “L’Avenir de l’Homme (1959) by Norman Denny p.; William Collins Pub. London and Harper & Row Pub. New York, 1964

Epiphany of Sophia

A cold coming we had of it,

Just the worst time of the year

For a journey, and such a long journey:

The ways deep and the weather sharp,

The very dead of winter.

(T.S. Eliot “The Journey of the Magi”)

The Christmas Story holds an allurement for the human heart that never seems to fade. It is deceptively simple in its plot and characters: a young couple, exhausted, make a long journey by decree of a far-off Emperor. Unable to find lodgings in an inn, they take shelter in a stable, warmed by the breath of animals. And there the young woman gives birth to a son. They are visited by shepherds who have been minding their flocks in the fields nearby. Suddenly the story takes on mystery: these shepherds tell a tale of wonder: angels have appeared in the fields singing to them of the child’s birth, urging them to go to find him….

And then, sometime afterwards, a trio of guests arrives. These are men of royal bearing from the Far East, and they tell a stranger tale: “We have seen his star in the East and have come to pay him homage.” Opening their bundles, they lay gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh before the Child. The story adds this line: “As for Mary, she treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19)

 

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As with so many ancient powerful tales, the truth of this story is within, and our hearts recognize its truth without having to seek proof of external elements. Great myths, like the dreams that sometimes appear in our sleep, carry treasures that we can unpack for ourselves, as we ponder them in our hearts. To do this, we must enter into the tale, find ourselves within the story, experience it as though it were happening now with us part of the tale.

In “The Journey of the Magi”, the poet T.S. Eliot offers us an intimate look within the hearts of these three mythical Eastern Kings, describing their journey in the “very dead of winter.”

Where might we find ourselves today within their part of the Christmas Story? For those of us now in the icy grip of a North American winter, the weather is familiar, as are the hazards of travel at “the worst time of the year.” If our December journeys were made to celebrate the Feast of Christmas with family and friends, we might say even our purpose is aligned with theirs…. But let’s go deeper.

Before the Feast of Epiphany, I happened to wake in the deep heart of the night. Some sound drew me to my window. Looking out, I saw a starlit sky shimmering with such brilliance in the absence of moonlight or city glare that my breath stopped in pure wonder. Though I could recognize Orion’s belt and the Big Dipper, the uncountable number of bright stars made me ask HOW those ancient travellers identified the one they were meant to follow….

And that question has become my own question: the one so many of us are asking at this crucial time in our planet’s history when there are so many paths opening, so many possible routes…

Somewhere in the Universe my question was heard. Since then, stars have been separating out from the overall pattern, placing themselves in my path. I spent much of January 6th, Feast of the Epiphany, recording these gifts of light:

By chance, on Friday, I had come across these words of Joseph Campbell:

If you are going to act on the basis of what you know, you cannot just hold onto your knowledge. You have to translate it into a movement.

That same evening, on CBC radio, I heard an interview with a researcher and teacher of English Literature at an Independent University in Barcelona. She has just received a two million euro grant to study forgotten writings of women from past centuries. Asked about emerging themes, she said the writings “demonstrate a very keen understanding and search for spiritual meaning in life”: Why are we here? What is our relationship to divinity? The women writers were convinced of the connection between their life and spirituality. “They have an understanding of spirituality which is very intimate.”

Joseph Campbell’s words stayed with me sparking ideas, raising questions:

“What is the knowing I act on?” The answer came that we each carry within us a guiding star, as does all that exists in the universe (guided as Dante says by the Love that moves the sun and all the other stars). Our task is to learn to recognize and follow this inner star. This requires time, intention, deep listening and grace.

I knew with greater clarity that this is the purpose of my work: assisting people to find and follow that inner star within them. For my own journey, guidance has come through a deepened relationship with a Sacred Presence, a true co-creative partner in all that I do. This mysterious Friend is an aspect of the Sacred Feminine, the Sophia Presence of the Hebrew Scriptures. In dialogue with her, I have been shown the pathways to choose. This story is still unfolding for me, and it is my deep desire to invite others to find their own Star within and to follow it into joy and wisdom.

We must follow it with courage as well for Eliot’s poem has a less-often quoted ending:

But set down

This set down

This: were we lead all that way for

Birth or Death? There was Birth, certainly,

We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and

death,

But had thought they were different: this Birth was

Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.

We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,

But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,

With an alien people, clutching their gods.

I should be glad of another death.

Yes, we must be prepared for radical change on our journey, for loss of comfort

“in the old dispensation”.

From the glimpse I have had so far of the journey to new life, I promise you it is worth the cost.

 

 

What is our role in the Christmas Story?

As children we may have taken part in the “Nativity Play”. Festooned with cardboard wings and glitter, we may have played the angels, or in our father’s old bathrobe, hitched up with a rope belt, taken our part as shepherds. If we were judged to be wholly lacking in dramatic gifts, we may have been cast as a palm tree. Secretly most little girls longed to play Mary, though the part usually required both an angelic expression and a cascade of golden ringlets thus disqualifying a child with red braids, freckles and a taste for mischief…

Our child’s heart quickly learned not to aspire to dreams beyond our reach.

And yet the Christmas Story continues to carry its own enchantment. Year after year we enter it, welcoming its familiar storylines, greeting its supportive cast of shining angels, stumbling shepherds, overburdened innkeepers, royal camel-driving Wise Ones, with affection.

Each year we experience something more. As with all great archetypal tales, what we bring to the listening becomes part of the story. No other story holds this power of transmutation, this gift of shape-shifting into what each of us most needs to hear… this capacity to take us beyond ordinary time into mythic time where we ourselves become part of a greater story.

As Jean Houston describes it in her book Godseed:

In the telling and the taking of the myth, you leave behind your usual time and are symbolically and psychologically projected into Great Time, into a paradoxical moment that cannot be measured because it has no duration. There is a breach in time and in the surrounding world. The inner psyche opens and a passage to the possible human is revealed. (p.33)

In this sacred experience of Great Time, we recognize that we are living the Christmas Story in our own time on this planet. We do not have to imagine the displacement, the discomfort, the life-endangering journeys resulting from the call of the Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus that a census of the whole world be taken and people must travel to their own towns to be counted… Today’s emperors initiate through their inhumane policies a huge migration of people away from their home towns and countries with appalling results in human suffering.

We live in a time of immense longing for a more humane and life-enhancing world… as a young songwriter reflected: giving a Christmas meal to the hungry is a lovely gesture, but in a better world, the hungry would be fed every day….

Christmas is about yearning for something to come into the world,” Jean Houston believes. “It’s the story of the birth of love, of hope, of a Holy Child in huge danger of being destroyed, bringing a new order of possibility into the world, needing to be protected and nurtured so it may grow into a free and luminous, numinous being.”   

In the midst of the suffering across the planet that is reported to us hourly in words and pictures, the Universe invites us to play the role to which we may once have aspired: to be a bearer of new life for a world that hungers for so much.

The Universe invites each of us to play the role of Mary (golden curls not required).

Here is how John O’Donohue imagines that invitation:

Cast from afar before the stones were born

And rain had rinsed the darkness for colour,

The words have waited for the hunger in her

To become the silence where they could form.

 The day’s last light frames her by the window,

A young woman with distance in her gaze,

She could never imagine the surprise

That is hovering over her life now.

The sentence awakens like a raven,

Fluttering and dark, opening her heart

To nest the voice that first whispered the earth

From dream into wind, stone, sky and ocean.

She offers to mother the shadow’s child;

Her untouched life becoming wild inside.

Jean Houston encourages us to take this invitation to heart:

Just think of the promise, the potential, the divinity in you,

which you have probably disowned over and over again

because it wasn’t logical, because it didn’t jibe,

because it was terribly inconvenient (it always is),

because it didn’t fit conventional reality,

because… because… because….

What could be more embarrassing than finding yourself pregnant with the Holy Spirit?

It’s a very eccentric, inconvenient thing to have happen.

What are your “becauses”?,

the reasons that you disowned your divine potential,

your divine conceptions.

(“because I felt unworthy…” “because of what people would say…” ) Godseed p. 38

This Christmas, as we listen once again to the story’s unfolding, let us see ourselves as Mary, guided by John O’Donohue’s Visualization:

The Nativity

No man reaches where the moon touches a woman.

Even the moon leaves her when she opens

Deeper into the ripple in her womb

That encircles dark to become flesh and bone.

Someone is coming ashore inside her.

A face deciphers itself from water

And she curves around the gathering wave,

Opening to offer the life it craves.

In a corner stall of pilgrim strangers,

She falls and heaves, holding a tide of tears.

A red wire of pain feeds through every vein

Until night unweaves and the child reaches dawn.

Outside each other now, she sees him first.

Flesh of her flesh, her dreamt son safe on earth.

John O’Donohue (Connemara Blues

Doubleday, Great Britain, 2000; Bantam Books, 2001)

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Waiting in Advent Darkness

Advent: Enchantment, Disenchantment, Re-enchantment       November 27, 2018

Advent was once my favourite Liturgical season. The weaving of a wreath that smelled of fir trees in winter forests. The candles whose shared light grew steadily with each week. The mysterious darkness of earth and heart, as both awaited the radiance, the wonder of Christmas. Enchantment.

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full moon of Novmber caught in a tree

There came a dark November day when I knew I would not gather the evergreen boughs that fell to the earth from generous trees near my home. I would not purchase four candles (three purple and one rose-coloured). I would not spend four weeks awaiting Christmas.

These symbols no longer held meaning: the four weeks of Advent were meant to represent the four thousand years that humans awaited the birth of Christ. It was the Irish priest-writer Diarmuid O’Murchu who pointed out that paleontologists estimate human life on this planet was conscious at least six million years ago, and that timeline keeps getting pushed back…. Cosmologists, most notably the luminous Teilhard de Chardin, acknowledge that there is a form of spirit/light/consciousness in all that exists on the planet, including rocks. That takes us back to the beginnings of our universe, more than thirteen billion years…

Further, as O’Murchu suggests, the earliest conscious humans expressed in their artwork and ritual an awarenss of a power in the universe that held them in love and light in all earth’s ages before the coming of Christ…

So what place can the four weeks of Advent have in this new Universe Story?  The allurement of the Universe as the expression, the visible Presence of Love in our lives, was/is so powerful that I gladly relinquished the lure of those dark weeks of Advent. Disenchantment.

And then I began to fall in love with the Winter Solstice. I discovered that this amazing yearly time (which for our ancestors only became evident in earlier dawns and later sunsets after a few days) was the reason why the early Christians chose December 25th to celebrate the Birth of Christ. Celtic scholar Dara Molloy, author of The Globalization of God, told me when I visited him in Ireland that it was the Celtic Christians who also suggested June 24th, a few days after the Summer Solstice, the time of the waning of the light, for the Feast of John the Baptist. Hadn’t John said of the Christ, “He must increase and I must decrease”?

Slowly, over recent years, the beauty, passion and power of the Christ-story are being rewoven on the loom of our new knowledge of the Universe.

Bruce Sanguin who has done this with clarity and poetic elegance in his article on “Evolutionary Cosmology”:

The season of Advent is an affirmation of the dark mysteries of life. In these four weeks, we enter into a deepening darkness, a fecund womb where new life stirs. Before the great Flaring Forth 13.8 billion years ago, there was only the empty dark womb of the Holy One.

We have a bias against darkness privileging the light in our tradition. But most of the universe is comprised of what scientists call dark matter….for the universe to exist in its present form, and not fly off in all directions, the gravitational pull of the dark matter is necessary. Creation needs the dark in order to gestate. Advent is a season of contemplation and meditation in which the soul, if allowed, falls willingly back into that primordial darkness out of which new worlds are birthed.

When Mary uttered those five words, “Let it be to me”, she was assenting to the descent into the sacred mystery that angels announce in the seasons of Advent and Christmas. We are called to trust this descent into darkness, making ourselves available as the ones through whom a holy birth can happen.

To go deep into the Season of Advent is to trust that there are galaxies of love stirring within the womb of your being, supernovas of compassion ready to explode and seed this wondrous world with Christ-shaped possibilities

Are we willing with Mary to consent to the birth of the divine coming through us? Are we willing to actually be a reconfigured presence of the originating Fireball, prepared to be centre of creative emergence – to give birth to the sacred future that is the dream of God? Are we willing both personally and in the context of our faith communities to birth the Christ?

So bring on the Christmas pageants….and when that cardboard star-on- a- stick glitters above the baby Jesus, think of it as your cosmological kin winking at you and settling over you as well, lighting you up as a sacred centre through whom the Christ waits to be born.   

Re-enchantment.

We wait in darkness, and we do not wait alone, as poet Jessica Powers writes:

I live my Advent in the womb of Mary

And on one night when a great star swings free

From its high mooring and walks down the sky

To be the dot above the Christus i,

I shall be born of her by blessed grace.

I wait in Mary-darkness, faith’s walled place,

With hope’s expectation of nativity.

I knew for long she carried me and fed me,

Guarded and loved me, though I could not see,

But only now, with inward jubilee,

I came upon earth’s most amazing knowledge:

Someone is hidden in this dark with me.

 

 

Mary’s Silence

Like Harry Potter, I stand with you before an ordinary brick wall in a London train station, gathering courage to push the luggage cart through and beyond to Platform 9 ¾, where the Hogwarts Train awaits us. That’s how it feels to re-enter the mystical, yet more-than-real, world of spirit, journeying into the mystery of Mary’s story, seeking there guidance for the mystery of our own stories, our own lives.

 

We have just celebrated the twelfth day of Christmas, Feast of the Epiphany. Three wise persons from the East followed a star to Bethlehem. Not one word exists about that encounter between the young mother, her faithful husband and the ones who came to honour the Child. Of the four evangelists, only Matthew even tells the story of the Epiphany.

 

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But there is one stunningly-beautiful moment in Luke’s Gospel about other visitors that gives a hint.

In the countryside close by there were shepherds who lived in the fields and took it in turns to watch their flocks during the night. The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone round them. They were terrified, but the angel said, “Do not be afraid. Listen. I bring you news of great joy, a joy to be shared by the whole people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. And here is a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” And suddenly with the angel there was a great throng of the heavenly host, praising God and singing: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace to (those) who enjoy (God’s) favour.”

 Now when the angels had gone from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” So they hurried away and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. When they saw the child, they repeated what they had been told about him, and everyone who heard it was astonished at what the shepherds had to say. As for Mary, she treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart. (Luke: 2: 8-19 JB) 

The angel, the heavenly host, the shepherds, all have lines to say.

Mary has only her silence.

But there is in her silence a shining gift of twofold guidance for us. What do we “treasure” from the days of this Christmas? How does the creative act of “pondering” these treasures deepen our awareness, our gratitude, our surprise and wonder? open our eyes to the gifts that are around us each day?

We might carry these questions within us as we move beyond the Christmas Season into the cold winter of ordinary time.

Here, from the poet Jan L. Richardson, is an Epiphany Reflection: “Wise Women Also Came”

 Wise women also came.

The fire burned

in their wombs

long before they saw

the flaming star

in the sky.

They walked in shadows,

trusting the path

would open

under the light of the moon.

Wise women also came,

seeking no directions,

no permission

from any king.

They came

by their own authority,

their own desire,

their own longing.

They came in quiet,

spreading no rumors,

sparking no fears

to lead

to innocents’ slaughter,

to their sister Rachel’s

inconsolable lamentations.

Wise women also came,

and they brought

useful gifts:

water for labor’s washing,

fire for warm illumination,

a blanket for swaddling.

Wise women also came,

at least three of them,

holding Mary in the labor,

crying out with her

in the birth pangs,

breathing ancient blessings

into her ear.

Wise women also came,

and they went,

as wise women always do,

home a different way.

Jan L. Richardson  (www.janrichardson.com)

 

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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