This is life with our four-year-old granddaughter Morgan. Excitement bubbles up in her with absolutely zero false social filters to block its display. When she says "wow," the word is airy, long and drawn out, and something within me wants it to go on forever. As we drove around the neighborhood that evening I sensed that Morgan was inviting me back to a time when I experienced Christmas, too, with that kind of awe and wonder.
One of my mentors, Ruben Habito, relates this story in his book Healing Breath:
A young father and his little three-year-old daughter, taking a Sunday stroll hand in hand through a meadow one day in spring. They came upon a clearing where there were clusters of flowers, and the little girl broke loose from the father's hand and began to prance about, dancing among the flowers. "Look, Daddy, look!"
"Yes, dear, those are violets," the father replied.
The little girl continued dancing and prancing, singing the new word: "Violets! Violets!"
The point here is the difference between the modes of awareness of the little girl and her father. The little girl, wide-eyed and full of wonder at everything around her, saw the flowers in their pristine beauty before she could name what they were. This beauty right before her simply moved her to dance and prance about in joy and celebration, unsullied by any dualistic frame of mind. It is an awareness of being filled with mystery and wonder at beholding the simply beauty of nature.
The father, on the other hand, having come to adulthood and now wise in the ways of the world, "knew" what those flowers were over there--violets--and in so knowing, lost the ability to see them in their freshness and mystery of their being. "Those are
violets." The human capacity to name things, giving us a certain sense of being in control over the things we can name, takes its toll on us, and we lose that sense of mystery and wonder that anything is there at all in the first place. [end quote]
The difficulty we adults have in seeing the wonder and beauty of everything around us is a huge loss for the world. It’s the first step necessary in acts violence, in pollution, and in the killing off of millions of species on the planet. When we can’t even see the beautiful Mystery of life itself, then, of course, we don’t respect it.
I know that “mystery” is a scary word for some of us. We have no power over a mystery; we can’t control it, so we try to take it apart and apply the scientific method to it! Understandable, but sometimes simply letting go and allowing a mystery to “be” is the better course.
It’s always struck me as a bit amusing that for all the violent arguing amongst the theologians of the early church – heresies! error! truth defined once and for all! excommunication! – what they finally declared as “dogma” was total mystery.
The Council of Chalcedon in 451 declared that Jesus Christ was “perfect in divinity and perfect in humanity.” The Council said that Jesus Christ possessed two natures which were “not intermingled, not changed, not divisible, not separable.”
Same with the Trinity. If Jesus is God, does that mean there are two Gods? No. “Substance” unites the three aspects; “person” is what distinguishes them, said Tertullian.
Ah yes, the inscrutability of official doctrine.
I’m not denigrating these early church controversies – making fun of them a bit, I suppose, but in many ways I have great respect for them and find the questions they were addressing fascinating. And most importantly to me, where they finally landed (however ironically!) left the door wide open for Mystery.
That’s important because our experience of the divine is just as important as parsing the difference between homoiousios and homoousios. (That was a huge argument.) To experience the divine we have to allow ourselves to welcome the mystery. In fact, we have to move into it! – move into the mystery of the Incarnation as well as the mystery at the center of our own lives. Yes, it can be a bit scary, disorienting, disturbing, but moving into mystery may also empower our respect for other beings. What I mean is that standing in the center of mystery pushes us to acknowledge that we’re not in control, that we don’t know. Standing in that place of not knowing makes it much easier to acknowledge the inherent dignity of other beings and of creation itself. And standing in that place also brings us closer to our own childlike gift for wonder and awe, hidden for years, perhaps, but still there.
To actually experience Christmas this year, that’s not a bad place to stand.