I’ve only come near the edge of believing that there is no God a few times. I’ve sometimes asked in prayer, “are you heartlessly indifferent?”. “Are you just not involved?” “An “absentee landlord”, as Al Pacino said in the film Devil’s Advocate?” Many of the people I know, who adhere to a sort of scientific materialism, that there is no inspirited nature to the universe, are doing this because they have big hearts, and a deeply implanted sense of justice, and can see that if there is a God, why is pain a part of the deal?
This past week has been a hard one for me. I’ve struggled with cynicism. And have been weighed down with my own problems, but also have been feeling the weight that so many carry at this time of year. Some long for idyllic family times, and have no one to sit down at a meal with. Others who have family, also long for idyllic family times, but in reality, sometimes the siblings have stopped talking to each other, or there is some expectation that just isn’t met in the way the day transpires. It can feel a bit depressing sometimes… that our only options are to either be disappointed, or to protect our feeling of disappointment with cynicism. And we fail to recognize, that there is power in being still present, as we invoke holy observation, of ourselves, and of others.
Also, whenever cynicism is near, I know it is because I’m trying to protect myself, and I’m running from some form of grief. That I’m fearing the release of Holy tears.
The truth is, there are times when all of us, to whatever degree, think that God is indifferent. Watching us with some feigned involvement “from a distance”. And partly, the reason for that is, because any kind of unknowing is disquieting, even when, if we really think about it, all the most beautiful things in life, require not knowing. So… what if God IS indifferent, but in a Holy way? We Christians proclaim the incarnation, but we rarely ever take it to its fullest meaning. Because its fullest meaning scares us. That God as Love would bubble over as matter, as all things, and unmoor into the vulnerability of being, is such a tender thought, that our fear of real intimacy pushes it away.
So, here we are… it’s the fourth Sunday of Advent, and we’re approaching the birth of Jesus now. Within the context of sacred scripture, and our own life, how do we choose to frame Christmas?
What if we were to say, that God, through Mary’s consent, chose to outpour a new evolutionary level of consciousness - a sign, that we, and the whole earth, the whole universe, really are the garments of Christ. That is, we are deeply involved in an evolving story of love.
The trouble with saying that is that this kind framework, or revelation, has to come through our poverty. And what I mean by poverty, is: living fully, with sober suffering and joy. Cynicism keeps me treading water at least. It keeps me from living a false joy. And it keeps me from utter despair. I hover in that mode, in the hopes that I’ll find room at the Inn, so I can stay even just a little bit “comfortably numb”. It keeps me protected from intimacy with my friends, and my beloveds, because all intimacy is a mirror for the Intimacy at the heart of the whole universe.
Releasing that cynicism in a form of tender grief, and tender laughter, always leads me to the stable, where Christ can be born. See the tricky part is, that God resides in that place in us where the grief is. Which is exactly where the joy is. And whenever we’re running from the slow, precious tenderness of grief, or likewise don’t allow joy to flow, is usually when we get hung up on trying to find room at the Inn, where we all think God is supposed to be. It’s easier to believe God is born at the Inn, because the Inn is superficial. We tell ourselves, “maybe there isn’t a room there, but maybe they’ll just let me sit at the bar, if I can look as though I played by all the rules and did everything in the correct sequence”.
If there’s anything I’ve learned about the incarnation, it is always through very joy-filled moments of poverty. Meaning, it is when I realize I’ve got nothing left to give, and can still sense my belovedness, when I become quieted enough to realize that I am either a part of the flow of love, or I am a rigid clog in the arteries of love. And either way, my pessimism has no power over the final outcome of the Coalescence at work. Still, is that really the way to live my life?
I have this little song that says
“we are Bethlehem
we are Mary’s “yes”
The angel choir sang of this kiss
That God is woven in with this”
But to realize this, it is almost always in those moments, or even long years, when we are bewildered by, or are suspicious of, the Silence of God.
The bewilderment hopefully causes some break in the armour, so we might allow ourselves to glimpse at… ourselves… because all along, God has been in there, closer than we are to ourselves.
And likewise, sometimes it feels like God isn’t with us, because there is no room at the inn. Like we’ve been forsaken and turned away because we don’t fit into the business as usual. We missed the memo, and are doomed to peer in through the window, watching all the folks who did it right, getting their golf clubs ready for the caddy to cart off to the pitch.
But the truth is, we are all finite. We are all vulnerable. And that is what makes us touchable. Huggable. It is how we are able to share the sign of peace with each other. It is where love is enfleshed, and live out.
We struggle with the notion that the Divine, the Source, this all encompassing Love Supreme, who some of us call God, is unmoored, outpoured into reality. IS reality. And that somehow the Christ child was born here, into the revealing truth, of who each of us are in our poverty.
The Silence of God is our center, and our circumference. It is the Holiest indifference. The absence we think we feel, is really more like being eclipsed, because of how overlapped, intertwined, interwoven God is with all of this.
Sometimes I am awestruck at my own devotion to this idea of Inclusive-Incarnation-as-Reality. Sometimes I am afraid it is true, simply because it might not be true. And often in those times, I run in fear, away from possible joy, and from the hurting it causes in my heart. And in those times, again, I try to find room at the Inn, where at least there, I think, I will be cushioned from being vulnerable, and from unknowing, and from having to wonder. There at the Inn, at least they won’t ask me to unmoor, like the God I intuit, is always unmooring.
But look at what is happening somewhere over yonder. Get up, put your coat on, go outside, breathe in the scent of animals, kneel in the straw. There’s Silence, and then birthing moans, and then Silence, in your ears. And God plunges into life, as vulnerable and precious, as any baby ever born. And the echo of Mary’s song is there. And she and Joseph sing the stories of their people. And someone already wants him dead, because it is too good to be true.
Teresa of Avila said, “the feeling remains, God is on the journey too.”
Thomas Merton said, “for the world and time, are the dance of the Lord, in emptiness” - and he said, further along in his passage, “yet the fact remains, we are invited to throw our awful solemnities to the wind, and join in the general dance.”
Jesus said, “I and the Father are One”.
Jesus also said, “As the Father sent me, so I send you.”
And what that means is that Christ has been born in your stable, too. And mine. It IS too good to be true, and yet it is true. Which is why it hurts to be human. But in those moments when we resist the flame within the flame in our own hearts, are the moments when it burns. And I confess, I’ve been feeling pretty burnt lately. I’ve been running from the freedom of my own poverty, that allows me to join in the general dance.
Over the next few days, as we each do Christmas how we do Christmas, join me in taking the time, to sit, or kneel in the stable. And I mean, imagine going there in your heart. It is there that Christ will be born, as a sign, that neither cynicism and nihilism, or their opposites, ignorance and bigotry, have the final say in who we are.
Our hope beyond all hope did come
To call us each and every one
To the surface of our consciousness
God dwells within, and always has
Alana Levandoski is a song and chant writer, recording artist and music producer, in the Christian tradition, who lives with her family on a regenerative farm on the Canadian prairies.