Thursday, December 26, 2013

Christmas—Incarnation, recast

from a post on December 29, 2009

It’s not the Resurrection, dammit! It’s the Incarnation!
Godfrey Diekmann, OSB.

Godfrey exploded with this statement in the students’ dining hall at St. John’s. An editorial in National Catholic Reporter reminded me of this story in The Monk’s Tale, a biography of Diekmann, by Kathleen Hughes. When I was at the School of Theology, she came onto the Collegeville campus to gather stories for her book about our colorful and inspirational professor, Godfrey, as he was known by students and fellow professors. Among my cherished memories of Godfrey, who played an important role in contemporary Church history, is his frequent return to the theme of the Mystical Body. He lamented the Church's neglect of it.

To traditional Christians, God’s entry into time and history happened at the birth of Jesus, whom they worship as God.  But I see their worship as a form of idolatry.
We incarnate or embody the Divine—this is what I believe Godfrey was saying. We are the eyes, hands, and feet of Christ, and I don’t mean a man, and by “we” I don’t mean only Christians. Divinity resides in the heart of the Hindu, Inuit, Muslim, Sikh, animist, whatever. Eternity is enfleshed in all creation, and our distinctly human task is to consciously advance this process of Incarnation.

When I said something like this in a blogspot a long time ago, someone commented that non-Christians would object to being called “the eyes, hands, and feet of Christ.” I have to agree. I’m doing my best here to bridge Christian doctrine with other spiritual systems, and I inevitably offend one side or the other. Speaking as a Christian, I’m comfortable with Christian terms, but I have no patience with traditionalists bent on preserving the literal and exclusive understanding of our religious doctrines.

A Buddhist interviewed in Sacred Journey (summer 2009), said of the Dalai Lama,
He feels that even if someone is beating his body, underneath the cells of his body is the realm of pure light that is blissful. . . . welling up from the core of the reality of life, an infinite sustaining energy, which is what I think all highly spiritually developed people tap into, whatever they call it.
How well this captures incarnational possibility!
I think that, if Godfrey were working in this new century with its wealth of alternative spiritual voices, he would have listened. He would have synthesized the Dalai Lama’s view with Paul’s “Christ lives in me.” And he might even have seen the link with secular humanism, which more than religions has advanced human dignity and human rights around the world.

Carl Jung integrated Christian doctrine with secular spirituality. He showed that our thinking I, our ego or conscious mind, needs to become aware of our unconscious totality, our Higher Self. He called this a process of incarnation because the inner Self  “cannot be distinguished from God-images,” of which Christ is the prominent example. How do we achieve incarnation or union of ego with divinity? Jung answers, “God becomes manifest in the human act of reflection.”  What follows is becoming the eyes, hands, and feet of Christ.

Christmas is the feast of the Incarnation, but, oh, what a variety of meanings can flow out of this! To me it can mean that we are to become Mothers of God in a Virgin Birth.
Now an email response to my posts.  Ron Ohmann gave me permission to quote him, hoping his comment may help others to understand my message:
Thanks, Jeanette. Although we enjoy the prevailing Catholic/Christian "take" on Christmas, we remind ourselves it is largely mythology. It really is beautiful mythology which is why it has such strong cultural appeal, I suppose. But, as thinking Catholics who read Bp.J.W.Spong, yourself, and others, we are, I believe, more realistic regarding Christmas and other aspects of Christianity. It is, I feel, the only way one can truly grow spiritually as a Christian. Happy New Year,             Ron

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Win over Christmas commercialism

On October 23, 2006, the St. Cloud Times published a column I wrote about one family’s victory over the Christmas buying frenzy. Reluctantly, Yvonne and Jim Sexton agreed to be identified with their story “if good can come about because of it.” Here are Yvonne’s words:     

About seven years ago, while thinking about the commercialization of Christmas and my weariness about the whole season, I decided to try to raise our grandchildren's awareness of the REAL message of Christmas. I floated the idea with Jim and he liked it, so we began what has become a treasured tradition in our family.

In November we send each grandchild a check for [it could be any amount, say from $5 to $1000].  They are asked to find someone in need and make a difference in their lives. They can choose a project, individual, family, whatever. We encourage them to get personally involved if it is appropriate. Then they are to share their encounters, always respecting privacy of persons if appropriate.

Every year we have a Christmas party [with] a ritual around this experience. We begin with an opening prayer and a darkened room. A table has been prepared with many votive candles, one for each grandchild. One by one the kids tell their story of searching for a project or person in need.

After telling the story each child lights one candle “to light places darkened by desperation” and the family responds with prayer and song, such as “This Little Light of Mine.” Yvonne adds,

We have 19 grandkids, so this is quite a lovely scene. There are tears shed and it becomes deeply moving.

They finish with a little concert of Christmas carols featuring the talents of the grandchildren on piano, violin, and viola.
The idea is spreading. Yvonne contacted St. Bart's school in Wayzata and offered to fund classes that committed to carrying out such a project. In a ritual on the last day of school before Christmas, a representative of each class reported on the class experience. This was followed by lighting of candles, prayer, and song.  

The pastor liked it so much he shared the idea with his whole parish while encouraging them to get involved with the poor. The story was featured in the Star/Tribune.  
The whole Sexton family feels relief at being freed from the dictates of consumerism. Sexton married children often match their parents’ gift so that the grandkids have more to share with others. The grandchildren know how lucky they are. One wrote,

Thank you, Grandma and Papa, for giving me this opportunity to help those in need.

Another wrote,

I think everyone in our country should be aware of all the kids in the world that are starving, because America is probably the country that throws away and wastes the most food.

            Yvonne confessed,

One year I was a little late with the letter and check and I got a call from one of the grandkids saying, “We're going to do our special Christmas thing again, aren't we Grandma?”

A granddaughter at Maple Grove High School described the tradition in an English paper, and her teacher got the story published in a local paper.
May readers pass on this marvelous idea for restoring holiness to what used to be a holy time. Merry Christmas.