October 1, 2014

Why Do We Love this Season?

Suckling Madonna, Lorenzetti

Why do we love this season?

I would suggest that aesthetics have much to do with the answer to that question. Advent and Christmas are made sensible to us by means of the things we see, hear, smell, taste, and touch at this time of year.

Spiritual truth comes out of the closet of the abstract and makes itself real to us through our bodily experiences during the holidays.

God in heaven becomes incarnate in Bethlehem.

We shiver at the chill. And grow warm by the fire.

We smell the pungent dung of the stable. And fragrant bows from the pine.

The song of the angels fills our ears. And the voices of children.

Our gaze is transfixed upon a newborn Baby.

We relish the special feasts we share with one another, as the Baby suckles his Mother’s breast.

Gifts are exchanged, hand to hand, paper ripped open and flung aside amid squeals of delight and smiles, tears, hugs, acknowledged later with handwritten thank-you notes.

It is not simply the Christmas “spirit” but the lived experiences of Christmas that we treasure.

All of our traditions and practices, the idiosyncratic celebrations of our families, and the special events in our churches and schools and communities take place in space and time in the lives of boys and girls and men and women of flesh and blood who hold up their candles in the darkness and await the moment when “the dawn from on high will break upon us.”

Enough for Him, whom cherubim, worship night and day,
Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels fall before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.

Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.

- Christina Rosetti

Hear this marvelous testimony from Eric Gill. Don’t get sidetracked and focus only on the specific path he chose (Catholicism), but hear the larger message he brings:

I became a Catholic because I fell in love with the truth. And love is an experience. I saw. I heard. I felt. I tasted. I touched. And that is what lovers do.

Oh, that we, in all our faith traditions, might learn this. There is no “spiritual” faith. What God has given us is bodies, by which we receive his gifts. The path leads from the outside in, and not vice versa. To reach our hearts, he took on flesh.

We instinctively know this at Christmas. My prayer is that we will know it in all the gracious seasons of life.

Comments

  1. Extra nos.

  2. The external Word…coming to us, in earthen vessels.

  3. “There is no ‘spiritual’ faith. What God has given us is bodies, by which we receive his gifts. The path leads from the outside in, and not vice versa. To reach our hearts, he took on flesh.”

    That’s beautiful, Chaplain Mike.

  4. Marcus Johnson says:

    Uh oh, did Gill use the word “experience” in that quote? Alright, iMonk folk, whoop him, Gagnam Style!

    • It’s an ok quote, as at least Catholics (the non-charismatic kind) receive Christ with their senses from outside of themselves, in receiving and tasting the body and blood on their tongues, seeing and feeling the waters of baptism, hearing the Word repeated in the readings and in the liturgy. The problem is they think those things have power because of their connection with their institutional church, instead of their connection to Christ’s Word.

      • Exactly.

        In Catholicism one’s relationship to Christ Jesus depends on their relationship to the Church. In Protestantism it is the opposite; one’s relationship to the church depends on their relationship to Christ Jesus.

        • Since Michael’s death, this blog has increasingly become a self-congratulatory Lutheran cul-de-sac. You’ve lost me.

          • This post wasn’t “Lutheran,” Jonathan. I’ll admit that the Lutheran commenters have dominated this thread, though.

            Hang in there.

            When Michael was here, there was a lot of Baptist stuff at times too. We are who we are, but we’ll do our best to make everyone feel welcome.

          • There are lots of greta posts by Catholics here.

            I love the exchange of ideas. I love that we can discuss the differences and implications of those differences.

            I do understand the desire to want everyone to agree you with. But I think I much more value clarity rather than agreement.

          • Marcus Johnson says:

            Chaplain Mike, what did you do to me? I thought I was a former Seventh-day Adventist, now attending a Free Methodist Church. Now I’m a Lutheran? How did you do that?

          • We Lutherans don’t have too many places to go outside our own ghettos.

          • I do miss some of the ecumenical roundtables like the liturgical gangsters though.

          • Marcus Johnson says:

            Correction: I just checked. I’m still a former Seventh-day Adventist, now attending a Free Methodist Church. Guess I haven’t been Lutheranized yet.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Chaplain Mike, what did you do to me? I thought I was a former Seventh-day Adventist, now attending a Free Methodist Church. Now I’m a Lutheran? How did you do that?

            WE ARE LUTHER OF BORG.
            PREPARE TO BE ASSIMILATED.
            RESISTANCE IS FUTILE.

          • You’re not fooling us, HUG. Luther never said that.

        • I’ve been a Catholic for 54 years and I have no idea what you are saying. My faith is in Jesus Christ–not the institution. I believe that the Church is the bride of Christ, but Jesus is my Savior. I hate it when Protestants tell me what I “really” believe and what the Catholic Church “really” teaches–they usually get it wrong.

          • I hate it when Protestants tell me what I “really” believe and what the Catholic Church “really” teaches–they usually get it wrong.

            Rick, I’ve come to realize that most of what we Protestants know (or think we know) about Catholicism comes from disgruntled lapsed Catholics who probably never understood their faith in the first place.

            I’m sure it works both ways. What must you Catholics think of us? Surely there are disgruntled among us who also kiss and tell. Well, no, that’s not even necessary. Just turn on cable TV.

      • “The problem is they think those things have power because of their connection with their institutional church, instead of their connection to Christ’s Word.”

        Really? Are you sure?

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          No, that is a false statement. But Lutherans *need* to understand Catholic doctrine that way in order to sustain their sense of distinctiveness. It is part of a lot of Protestantism, but to hard-core Lutherites it is doctrine #2, right after doctrine #1 which is “it must be argued for at least 4 hours whether any given statement is ‘law’ or ‘grace'”.