On the Incarnation

Merry Christmas to all!  My wish is that all will find the Hope and the Peace of this day!  Here are some reflections on the Incarnation by CS Lewis:

from Miracles, by CS Lewis:

In the Christian story God descends to reascend.  He comes down; down from the heights of absolute being into time, and space, down into humanity; down further still, if embryologists are right, to recapitulate in the womb ancient and pre-human phases of life; down to the very roots and seabed of the Nature He has created.  But He goes down to come up again and bring the whole ruined world up with Him.  One has the picture of a strong man stooping lower and lower to get himself underneath some great complicated burden.  He must stoop in order to lift, he must almost disappear under the load before he incredibly straightens his back and marches off with the whole mass swaying on his shoulders…


from “The Grand Miracle” in the essay collection God in the Dock:

The Christian story is precisely the story of one grand miracle, the Christian assertion being that what is beyond all space and time, what is uncreated, eternal, came into nature, into human nature, descended into His own universe, and rose again, bringing nature up with Him.  It is precisely one great miracle.  If you take that away there is nothing specifically Christian left.


Singing for Silence: An Advent Reflection

One of our lectionary readings during Advent comes from the part in Luke’s gospel where Zechariah is told that he will have a son.  Z, a high priest, does not believe the messenger who relays this to him, and for his impertinence is rendered silent until the baby is born.

8 Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty, 9 he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense. 10 Now at the time of the incense offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. 11 Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. 14 You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. 16 He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” 18 Zechariah said to the angel, “How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.” 19 The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20 But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.” 21 Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah, and wondered at his delay in the sanctuary. 22 When he did come out, he could not speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He kept motioning to them and remained unable to speak. 23 When his time of service was ended, he went to his home.

But I wonder if she let him sing.

This past month I have been back at Emmanuel Episcopal to sing Lessons and Carols and their Christmas Eve service.  A number of reasons led me back to Emmanuel for the holiday season, but the most grace-filled unintended consequence has been a time to shut up and sing.

Let me admit right now I am an advocate of organized religion, but I know it’s not for everyone.  When I stumbled upon the Eucharistic liturgy of the Anglican Church, I knew I was right where I needed to be.  And why?

Well, when you have the attention span of a gnat on crack, a bit of structure, especially spiritual structure, is a good thing.  Quite often, I refuse to hear the calm voice of the Lord over the incessant chattering in my mind.  Ironically, this chattering is often revolving around theological issues: I love reading other people’s take on theology, especially in reaction or appreciation to CS Lewis.  But this I find more often than not, is a hindrance to grace, an intellectual posturing that does more to remove my mind from God than focus on Him.  So when Providence places before me, this ADD addled stumbler-after-Christ, a point of focus, I grab at it like a lifeline.  Hence, the liturgy.

How does singing enter into this?  I don’t have much of a voice, a shaky tenor at best, and the musical ear of a white cat (they are usually deaf).  They say that singing is prayer times two, and I think the reason is because it focuses the singer on singing the song, not analyzing its lyrical content.  Therefore, the cadences and rhythms and poetry of “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming” is more important than say, an analysis of 15th Century German theological understanding of Jesse’s lineage.  The repetitive phrase “Praise Him, Ye Angels” sung over and over again, while not intellectually taxing, is nevertheless (to me anyway) a spiritual time out from the brain’s cacophony of words, words, words.

Did Z have this problem as well?   I think he might have.  The first part of verse 22 lends itself to the possibility:  “When he did come out, he could not speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary.”  Meaning, possibly, that when Z came out, he usually had something to say.  It was clearly not pleasant to be in this situation, as can be inferred from the last part of the verse “he kept motioning but was unable to speak.”   Z is a high priest, a man immersed the Book, a man, most likely of clear arguments and rebuttals, of binding and loosing.  And yet he cannot speak.  What can he do?  What does God want him to do?

Listen, of course.  But he’s impatient.  This doesn’t make sense to him, he needs to talk it out.  But no, silence.

But perhaps one night, before John was born, he realized all of this, let his mind be as quiet as his voice, at which point, maybe, just maybe…he sang.

My gift of silence comes from being in the choir-a bit of paradox, I know, but a place where I am forced to breath, to listen, to hold a note and not bombard it with thought.  To rejoice in waiting.

Advent Reflection: Caravaggio’s Madonna of Loreto

Two pilgrims, an old man and an old woman, kneel on stone steps hands nearly clasped but more rightly said to be cupped, walking sticks resting on their shoulders.  They kneel in front of Mary and the baby Jesus, Mary appearing as though the two had just caught her attention and she has turned suddenly to look at the them, perhaps brought out of some personal rumination.  The Christ child looks down on the pilgrims, chubby, naked, index finger pointing.

What kind of fights did Mary and Joseph have with each other?  Did Joseph ever feel insecure about the Virgin Birth?  Did he, in moments of weariness and weakness (perhaps Jesus never slept completely through the night) lash out at Mary?  “He’s not mine, anyway!”  yelled out in a fit of impatience and frustration, knowing full well he just lost it, the immediate apology forthcoming, but:  Did Mary ever leave?  Run off to clear her head of an argument, perhaps taking the Christ child with her, the one entity she felt completely bound to, and was it during this walk that she came upon the two pilgrims?  And perhaps, after hearing the clatter of sticks falling and the cries of praise for her and for Christ, after turning and seeing glistening eyes and weathered faces, after seeing her newborn point to the old couple and smile, did she think of her argument with Joseph?  Of how petty it all was in the face of what Was to Come, and all of her anger slipped away, pity and compassion returned to her face, and the faintest glimmer of a halo returned encircling her and her Babe’s head?  Was Joseph just out of frame, witnessing this?

Does our anger of the present blind us to what or who we hold in our hands for eternity?

Asthmatic Kitty Christmas

After being sick for the past five days, I feel a bit behind on my Christmas celebrations.  So I’m still going, even though its Dec. 28th!  I hope everyone got some neat-o gifts:  I received the new Welcome Wagon CD in the mail today, much earlier than expected.  One of my favorite artists, Sufjan Stevens, recorded and mixed this husband and wife gospel duo, and added his own flavor to their album as well.

Speaking of Sufjan, came across an interesting video on youtube that storyboards his “Hey Guys!  It’s Christmas Time” song from the Christmas EPs, check it out:

Lessons, Carols, and Lewis

I made it through the Mendelssohn!  We merged choirs this week for the Festival of Lessons and Carols:  Emmanuel Episcopal went to St. Gabriel’s in Titusville this week and next week they will join us in Orlando.  The service went beautifully- well, as beautifully as can be expected when you are unfamiliar with your surroundings or quirky acoustics.  My monster du jour was Mendelssohn’s “A Star of Jacob,” which hangs a tenor, after a few nice middle B’s, up on a high F, and then- well, just leaves him there.  The churches pooled together for a wonderful string quartet which offered some lovely orchestral undercurrents.

On the way, I enjoyed listening to Patrick Stewart’s reading of Dicken’s A Christmas Carol. The need to settle back and just enjoy listening to a good story has scratched at the door of my mind over the past few weeks.  Christmas, of all the holidays, seems the best time to let that need in, as it reminds me once again of who we are as humans- storytelling creatures, a trait we inherited from our father, the Storyteller.

As a further indicator of this mindset, C.S. Lewis has once again made it onto my bedside table and in my briefcase.  This time I am rereading Surprised by Joy as well as Voyage of the Dawn Treader (this after exhausting the special features on the Prince Caspian DVD- )

Here’s a great mini-documentary from the C.S. Lewis Foundation on Lewis’s conversion and the Foundation’s work at the Kilns:

‘Tis the Season

Before too much time goes by without another post on this blog, let me wish one and all a very warm and Merry Christmas!  I changed the header on Wanderingtree to reflect the season, and I think it’s really cool that WordPress has this whole falling snow feature right up until Jan 4th.

My students had one week off for Thanksgiving break, and now are patiently eagerly awaiting Christmas break on the 19th.  In the interim, I am valiantly trying to lock Shakespeare’s Macbeth into their brains.  It’s kind of weird to cover this particular Shakespearean play during the holiday season.  Why not A Midsummer Night’s Dream (I’m in Florida, remember, every day is summer), or Twelfth Night?  Or perhaps even bypass Shakespeare entirely, jump a couple of centuries, and do something by Charles Dickens, reinforcing our traditional Victorian precepts about our Christmas celebrations?  You see, Macbeth isn’t exactly one of those cheery, good-will-to-all-peace-on-earth kind of plays.  Nope.  Nothing but blood, revenge, betrayal, black magic.  All the good stuff.  I told my students that if the play starts getting them down a bit, just picture all the characters with Santa Claus hats on their heads.  Which really turned out to be funny when we read Lady Macbeth’s “Unsex me” rant in Act I.

Voting for Echoes

I stood in line for about an hour and a half waiting to vote at the West Oaks library in Ocoee, FL, taking advantage of Gov. Crist’s extension of the early voting hours in the Sunshine State.  Felt a bit like a cool fall day in New England- as the sun was setting, the night air grew slightly crisp, enough to want a light sweater.  It’s the weather I’ve been waiting for since early March- Florida’s sad pitiful version of winter.  Moving from New England twelve years ago, I never thought that I would miss the winter, but I do.

As I stood in line, I read from The Intimate Merton, a new collection of journal entries by the Trappist monk.  As I waited, I read his words from June 27th, 1949, written after Merton took a long walk in the woods surrounding the monastery of Our Lady of Gethsemani:

As soon as I get away from people the Presence of God invades me.  When I am not divided by being with strangers…I am with Christ.

The wind ran over the bent brown grasses and moved the shoulders of all the green trees, and I looked at the dark green mass of woods beyond the distillery on those hills down to the south of us and realized that it is when I am with people that I am lonely and when I am alone I am no longer lonely because I have God and converse with Him (without words) without distraction or interference.

But this place was simply wonderful…Down in the glen were the songs of marvelous birds.  I saw the gold-orange flame of an oriole in a tree…There was a cardinal whistling somewhere, but the best song was that of two birds that sounded as wonderfully as nightingales and their song echoed through the wood…I had never heard such birds before.  The echo made the place sound more remote and self-contained, more perfectly enclosed, and more like Eden.

I read this amongst a hundred people or more, all of us in line, doing our civic duty.  And I understood the necessity of it, and did not begrudge it in any way shape or form- this was my choice to stand out here, and make my voice heard in the political process, no matter how small.  But reading those words made me realize how transitory it all is, and how, well- processed.  We struggle through existence, creating monumental decisions for ourselves in order to feel more alive, and distracted.  And I thought of Merton in the woods, feeling God all around him- the moist breeze, the summer heat, knowing that it too would change, but needing no campaigns in order to do so.  Summer into fall, into winter, into spring…the Nature God created flows into one and another, decision innate, inherent, and obvious, because it all flows from God’s most holy will.

And perhaps we hear God’s voice not in a cacophony of voices, as most Americans have been inundated with through the noise of the presidential campaigns, but rather in echoes, resounding in the silence of our being.  Jack Kerouac once shouted from a lonely mountaintop “What is the meaning of the Void?”  He later wrote “the answer was silence, and so I knew…”

So now I sit in my house, furthering this mindset by listening to Sufjan Stevens sing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” in his particulary ethereal way- one lone voice, one lone banjo, one lone haunting eternal call and melody.  And is it too early for Christmas music?  Oh well.  The time has come, for me at least, to cast my vote and then drop out of line, and turn myself over to small eternal singularities.  And soon enough, the celebration of a tiny echo of Eternity, laying in a manger.