Most cultures celebrate the advent of “God” being manifest in the world. In the Western culture, it is virtually impossible to escape the commercialized expression of Christmas. Probably, the number of people who celebrate a secularized Christmas out-number those who celebrate Christmas as a sacrament. Paul Tillich believed a sacrament was an outer expression of an inward Grace.
During a recent conversation with a theologian, he commented on the dynamic tension between psychology and Faith. Probably, I would think they share more in common than he would but for the purposes of this brief comment, the differences are not so important.
Many who know me, already know that I have some formal training in the Christian tradition, so please forgive me if it seems the Christian tradition is more prevalent in my comments. I don’t mean to “dis” other faith traditions – it’s just easier and more familiar for me to speak in my “first language”, the Christian idiom. Other traditions, whether they be tied to a faith-tradition or other-cultural tradition also have expressions of the Divine being expressed in the material world.
For those readers with an antipathy towards Christianity, try to imagine my references as an allegory like an impressionist painting.
Consider the medieval arcane practice of Alchemy; the over-arching idea was to transform a “lower” substance to a “higher” substance – the “philosopher’s stone” of Harry Potter fame. The transformation was thought to be brought about by strange, often tortuous procedures of heating, cooling, pulverizing or combining with other substances. We find a similar motif in Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”; Ariel is the spirit (a higher substance) liberated from the tree (lower substance) in which he’d been imprisoned. In Alchemy, the lower, base substance is often called Prima Materia. In the practice of psychotherapy, the patient comes with a “presenting problem” which is the Prima Materia – it is the beginning base element which we hope to transform to something better and higher.
In the Christian narrative, God is expressed in human form. (Remember… ALLEGORY) The angel Gabriel tells Mary, a virgin,
“Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High."
Here, we find another example of the Divine (higher substance) being expressed in a human womb (lower substance). I don’t think it is just an interesting coincidence that “mother” and “matter” come from the same root, in Latin, Mater and Sanskrit, Mata.
Later, as Mary is ready to deliver the child, we read:
"While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Do you see the leitmotif? The Sublime presented in very crude surroundings.
Many times through Christian writings we find God’s will expressed through less than revered forms; from the mouth of an ass, from a bush and others. We are told that God uses the foolish to confound the wise. We are told of a "building block that was rejected" and how it becomes the cornerstone of a new epoch.
I point to these to set the stage for my “Christmas” message – that it is within YOU that the Divine is expressed, not in those who outwardly appear spiritual. Eckhart tells us that God is found in our weakness. It is when we are most broken that we find the Divine is with us and around us, in fact, IN US.
Are you feeling rejected or demoralized? We all, I am sure, have our psychological low place, our emotional manger; that is the more likely place we will find the cornerstone of our Spiritual emergence.
Forget material riches – forget what you think you know. Be honest about where you are the most broken… and then, get ready for Christmas!