Incarnation; a meditation
I was blessed to have a poem of mine posted at Social Matter for Christmas. I started Advent with big intentions of writing at least weekly. A very keen part of my soul even thought of posting daily! Well I have proven more dull than keen, and have posted even less often than usual. I have been writing, several hours a day, but on another project and web page I hope to reveal in the next few weeks at most. So I was glad for the prompt by E Anthony Gray to produce a Christmas poem. If you are unfamiliar with his work at A Spy In The House of God , you should pay him a visit. He is a prolific poet with a keen spiritual insight and wit; combining precision and order with the spacious beauty of lived faith.
The four weeks of advent came to an end tonight at mass. I was never really a Christian until I attended my first Christmas midnight mass. Well at least Christmas never made much sense prior. My poem is a brief attempt to catch the mystery or this annual event. In a secular age where every day is of equal marginal utility, these events provide form to the year and thus to our lives. More importantly they provide opportunity for spiritual confrontation, and keep us from the safety of our own assumptions. There is something inherently dangerous about Christmas.
“What I say to you, I say unto all . . .”,
But wait, you are not yet born, (or you are?)
I will, but cannot promise but to fail;
I am more vicious even than Peter.
The beast ambles, bearing woman with child;
Logos held mysteriously in the belly.
Truer than wombs which bore her all this while;
Holding fragile, this uncertain eternity.
The man leading by rope with knotted gut,
Aporetic how this Word of God will—
His prayer fretful-constant, watching as a scout—
Speak forth in warmed comfort, or in the open air.
The priest bears the chalkware doll lovingly.
From the altar through we congregants,
To the feed box in the crèche, go slowly
The train; thurifer, crucifer, and priests.
Pew to narthex, in haste I hope to see,
Altar to cradle, incarnation’s flash;
Gifting, through this time-tattered doll, Mystery.
Under the aspergillum’s chill, I Watch.
The thurifer swings the incense thing, a thurible, the crucifer carries the cross.
A priest sprinkles holy water with an aspergillium.
Watching is an active form of waiting, and is the spiritual mood of the Advent fast. As I wrote in the post commencing Advent, there are three aspects in waiting for the coming of Christ. First, his birth, his incarnation, second his coming in ministry, this includes his coming into our lives, and third the eschatological coming of Christ in the end times. It would be wrong to over spiritualize these three, and so render them relative and thus tepid. Though it is also true that an overly literal reading will stifle them. As a penetrating mystery they show a triune revelation of Jesus Christ. Each carries a sense of the others within it, all three are one yet all three bear a specific aspect. Much like the Holy Trinity itself; through Advent Jesus Christ is the one who was, is, and is to come.
I want to keep this brief and meditative, so I will finish with a single illustration of this theme of our Watching and Christ coming in these three ways. As stated above, seasonality is important in ritual. It is good. yeah essential, that Christmas is set on the 25th of December (January 7th will also do). It is hard to imagine the same effect in spring or summer. Psychologically every Winter we Northerners, whether it is against rationality or not, feel as if the world will continue to darken and cool. We have apocalyptic dread somewhere down in our bones. At the Mid Winter Solstice time stands still, change in each day’s length is imperceptible, we feel shut in the bottom of a cold and darkened valley. The 25th marks the change in this stasis toward growth. The sun will expand in our lives again as the days grow longer. It will still be unbearably cold at times as the entropy that lead to Solstice lingers, but the hopelessness of perpetual descent is over. Christ must come at this precise moment, as this is the moment he enters our lives.
Christ shares this birth date with other deities. When a radical protestant, this fact was a cause of some spiritual discomfort. As a neophyte Perennialist and PaganoAngloCatholic (thank you Anthony DeMarco for this handle) I am not troubled by these shared aspects. I don’t merely tolerate or smirk at them, I am grateful for them, embrace them. Christ is transformative, not revolutionary. Moreso, as a Christian I understand Him as the fullness of all things, not as a crank dissembler. I have come to accept this stance not so much by rational argument as by lived experience. I have learned how much the seasons effect my spiritual state. Christmas is inseparable from the winter mood. And rooted in this mood is expectation: watching.
The first year I saw the priest carry the chalkware ‘Jesus Bambino’ down the isle from the altar I cringed. I was slowly getting used to the religious objects and images of my new church, having grown up an iconoclast. On their surfaces the statuary can appear rather twee, and their veneration appear idolatrous. I wrote of this doll in the poem partly out of a sense of the futility of it, “How does one receive God through a tattered plaster-cast of an infant?”
At mass last night I was standing at the isle as the priest, a dear friend, processed holding the babe lightly aloft in front of him, as if it were the most precious thing in the world. The congregation and choir were singing a processional hymn. As the babe passed I looked at its scratched surface, it was such a feeble thing, and yet I felt a deep urging. This was not a sense of sinfulness, but one of profound lack. When Christ comes at whatever historical stage, in whatever form, it is impossible to escape the juxtaposition of Him with us. Though this may not always feel like condemnation, it always feels of discrimination, a glimpse of the Eschaton in our own souls. My halfhearted ‘watching’ of the past four weeks was met with the arrival of the Christ child reaching out to me through this plaster proxy. Had I not been in public the transcending sense would have driven me to my knees. I was at once grateful and terrified.
A very Happy Solstice and a Merry Christmas to you all. And as we contemplate the New Year in the stream of what all we Alternative Rightists have received in 2016 let us remember, the coming of Christ into the world is also how He enters our lives; new, frail, and undetermined. The same conflicted mix of longing and satisfaction that comes with the arrival of our own children; the beginning of a story who’s telling we cannot yet know.