I was raised in a Christian (Catholic) home, but it didn’t take. I don’t know what I am. All I know is that I escaped from parochial school, catechism, and the best evil eyes of several priests and nuns with my own spirituality intact. Today I would say I’m a Mysterian. I’ve been shaped by lots of influences from the world’s spiritual traditions, but I am enamored most by the Mystery that seems to reside behind them all. In the final analysis, I think I belong to the religion of no religion, a tradition that grew up with the human potential movement. Oh, but the Mystery awes me!
The Christmas season doesn’t do much for me. I’m turned off by its crass commercialism. The lights, trees, jolly fat man, songs and pageantry seem to me to be a poor expression of our sense of togetherness. I haven’t really celebrated Christmas in years. That doesn’t make me a Scrooge, or a pagan, or a Zombie. I am just thankful for the winter, and I have a continued hope for a real reflective period of silence.
I didn’t leave my marriage with any of the Christmas ornaments. I guess the stroke, and what seemed like near death, combined to make Christmas seem kind of irrelevant. I even gave my crèche to my daughter. I thought I had gone beyond Christmas. The underworld doesn’t have bright lights, and good cheer is extremely rare. I languished there a long time, nearer to death than to life, and was shaped into someone who appreciates Life, and the changes it brings.
I survived; I even have a new life now. But the experience of being held on the threshold, which I experienced more like a precipice, remains with me, and informs all I do. My sense of the spiritual is much darker than most. I am still enamored of Mystery, but I have a solid dose of reverence for how this “larger something” can move in ways that are dark and unfathomable. I have reason to be grateful, and my gratitude is tempered by a sense of how fleeting and vulnerable everything is.
So imagine my surprise when I realized that I had three Christmas ornaments. They were the Magi. For several Christmasses now they have watched over my living room, colored my holiday solitude, and drawn me deeper into the Christmas story. I discovered, to my surprise, there was an aspect of the Christmas story, following a star in the darkness, which I could relate too. I imagined myself a wise man caught-up in a deep intuition, following a strange light in the darkness. My light was within, but I had to follow it just the same.
I have been on a long journey. I’ve been following an internal phenomenon I can’t name. I don’t know the how of such things, but the journey seems to be unfolding me. As long as I’ve wandered, alone, I’ve been compelled to keep going. It has seemed to me a twisted journey, a trip thru the dark lands, a lonely vigil at the bedside of a dying man, a delusion that was unfolding me in ways I could not understand.
The wise men give me solace. They reintroduced me to a part of the mystery of Christmas, a part of all real pilgrimages, which I have forgotten. It isn’t enough to be on a journey. There must be some times of arrival. The Magi came to the birth of a child. The journey had led them to something surprisingly ordinary. Only a child! At the end of the journey, there is a new beginning.
This year I’ve been looking at the Christmas story anew, not just from the travels and travails of the Magi, perhaps because I have a new life, perhaps because Mystery compels me too, perhaps because I’ve come far enough to really get what the journey has been about. Only a child! I know the Christian trip is about this being baby Jesus, the savior of mankind, but for me this infant represents something different, equally miraculous, but differently saving.
At some point in the journey, I am compelled to stop and pay homage to what has been born in me. The journey has become something. Something new has come into the world! I don’t know what this new being is yet, I can feel it is full of potential, potential that as it gets realized, makes me someone who is capable of saving my self and being useful to the world. The child I stumbled across on my journey is me, an unknown mysterious me, the light of my future, the beginning of a new life. I am the gift I always wanted.
Only a child — a miracle dressed up so ordinarily.
Only a child — a beginning at the end.
Only a child — some newness within that signals a new life.
Only a child — a vulnerability dependent upon wise attention.
The story of Christmas has changed me. The story of Christmas is not about divine birth happening 2000 years ago, it is about the birth of hope within and now.
May you find what waits to be born in you this year!