Pondering Christmas

Our God “most high” is a God “most low”! That is the mystery of Christmas! And it is a mystery to ponder all our life. And it is the only mystery, the only thing that somehow gives meaning to suffering, powerlessness, pain, and loss. To know that God came to share these very human struggles with us somehow softens these mysteries. I am inclined to think, in my pondering, that the only transformation of suffering, powerlessness, and poverty and all that we experience as negative in our lives is in somehow connecting them to Jesus and his own walking in them in order to transform the world. It is not just a question of letting these things be spiritually transformed in us but of letting our lives be touched and transformed in a “hands on”, “feet on” way, trying to eradicate poverty, live non-violently, build human respect, freedom, and peace, and walking “justly, kindly, humbly with God” (Micah 6:8).

God has given us two wonderful “books”, the Scriptures and Creation. And they are about these mysteries. Perhaps that is why they are so fascinating. But neither ever explains these mysteries to our satisfaction and Jesus didn’t explain them either. He simply came and lived them with us. The “most high” became the “most low” and somehow his living of them transformed them, gave them meaning and dignity, transforming them into the very means of restoring our communion with the Father. Perhaps that’s why the Beatitudes are called “beatitudes” or blessings. They speak of poverty, sorrow, meekness, hunger, tears, exclusion and persecution as sources of joy and blessing, “Rejoice and leap for joy”. But how can they be so unless somehow Jesus has transformed their meaning, given them new meaning, and somehow empowered them to become life giving? Can I let go of their old meaning and let them be resurrected into something new?

All of these are things not of the head, but of the heart. That’s why they remain mysteries. Our heads just can’t get a grip on them and that already is a kind of powerlessness and poverty that we experience. Yes, we are called to become persons of the heart and to experience life with our hearts and with God’s eyes, the eyes of the “most low”, letting our way of seeing be transformed. Only thus can poverty, pain and powerlessness perhaps be transformed within us into life, peace, and joy.

In our war riddled-world, how can we turn the other cheek, love our enemies, pray for someone who hurt us, and concretely respond to evil with good? It’s a huge challenge. My experience in little everyday ordinary situations tells me that in the very act of doing so, my thoughts, my emotions, and my hurts may not change too much at first (and I may even do the good out of revenge to “heap coals on the head of the other person” as St Paul said in Romans 12:20) but in the very act of overcoming evil with good something in me begins to change and I begin to see the other with my heart. Mercy begets mercy just as evil begets evil. God leaves me totally free to take the first step or not. Mercy takes root in the soil of sufferings and hurt.

I was struck by something Pope Francis said the other day when commenting on a passage from Isaias, “Be consoled my people”. He mentioned that very often when we are suffering or hurt we don’t let ourselves be consoled. It’s as if we want to cling to our sufferings and hurts. Perhaps they bring us needed attention or security. I find it’s true of forgiveness, too. Sometimes I don’t let myself be forgiven or even forgive myself. And yet what joy in another’s consolation, in another’s forgiveness!

Yes, these are mysteries of life and of the heart which are so clearly expressed when a mother holds her newborn close to her heart and her pain is quietly transformed into joy, a transformation that takes place quite naturally. But what of all the pains and sufferings for which there is not a natural transformation? My experience is that often we are hurting too much to “consciously transform” our pain into something positive ourselves. And so I am wondering if we cannot do so for one another? Can I not connect the “energy” of all my sufferings or those of another to God’s life-giving, energy so that in God it can become creative, life-giving energy to help another? A mother forgets her pain when she knows that it has become life-giving for her baby. Perhaps our sufferings and joys can also become life-giving for another, for the world. Yes, these are things of the heart!