Through the mask
of the screen, device, closed eyes,
you are not a face
I have to care about
Only words that have offended
my beliefs. My values (character!) questioned,
as I stand scrolling on the bus
or lie in bed
you could be next to me
but your vitriol only
clashes mid-air with mine
fist first – like two villains –
as I hide
behind my rock
cheering (not knowing if you are too –
or if you’re weeping)
As most of you know – I try to reflect on one very small part of the Christmas story each year – to keep it fresh and personal.
Honestly, this didn’t feel like a super productive year: no big changes or crazy trips. And maybe that’s okay 🙂 – It has felt like a year of Being – of digging in, rooting down – in friends, in faith, in self-awareness, in an ever-growing dissatisfaction with easy answers and a striving to be comfortable with complexities.
As is usually the case, I don’t seem to choose the direction Advent takes me. This Christmas (again), the name “Immanuel” kept coming up – this idea of the longing of of a Holy God to be present with us – a poor struggling human race. And this year, the name took on a deeper meaning for me.Part of my self-learning has not been pretty. I’ve realised that I hate being weak. I hate being vulnerable. I would rather be the one comforting some one else. I don’t like needing help. I don’t like pity and I feel uncomfortable with sympathy.
But I’ve slowly come to value true empathy. What a gift understanding is. What a comfort a simple act of presence is. What an odd relief to hear “I’ve hurt too”. And what beauty can happen when you yourself open up to others.
I can’t help but think that the Christmas ‘story’ really is the ultimate act of empathy. The incarnation is even deeper than “Immanuel – God with us”, but it is “God was us.”
“He knows our need” “To our weakness, is no stranger”. He truly knows our struggles. Not just because he is God. But because He became man.Perna Chodron, a Buddhist nun, wrote “Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.”This is so beautiful – and yet I didn’t truly appreciate it until I read it from the perspective of the receiver. Compassion means so much more when it comes not from some one reaching down – deigning to give but when it comes from some one reaching across out of his or her own pain and struggles.
I’m still trying to comprehend it. God. as a baby. Every year, it becomes more and more miraculous to me – and every year it becomes more and more precious.
The Creator wraps Himself in mud and sin and pain and weakness – to reach out to us so we could be part of His light and love and grace.
For many people I know, this year hasn’t been the easiest. And I can’t even begin to comprehend what happened in Pakistan last week or what has been going on in Syria for years.
But the story of Christmas came also at a time of oppression, conflict, murder, loneliness, silence, poverty…
It’s why Jesus came to earth. To know us. To save us – in the deepest most empathetic way possible – He “made Himself nothing, by taking on the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.”
I’m not Catholic, but I have to quote Pope Francis on this:
“God’s becoming man is a great mystery! But the reason for all this is his love, a love which is grace, generosity, a desire to draw near, a love which does not hesitate to offer itself in sacrifice for the beloved. Charity, love, is sharing with the one we love in all things. Love makes us similar, it creates equality, it breaks down walls and eliminates distances. God did this with us.”Understanding and empathy gives us just a little hope that it’s possible to go on out of our own darkness, our own struggles – some one has been there before. Sometimes that’s all we need in order to see just a little bit. We can make it one more day. Some one understands. Someone is here. There is a light in our darkness. There is hope.
That’s what we celebrate in December.And the thing is – is that when it comes to experiencing this, I find that this love, this hope is revealed in us and to us through others – through each other. I’ve seen this Immanuel “God with us” sense through people – those who for that moment put aside their own lives in order to better enter mine.
Just as Jesus entered our world, we enter in to the midst of each other’s pain (AND joy!). What I can do now for those around me is to be with, a presence, some one who becomes part of their present. With this gift of understanding, of grace, the “I’ve been there” – well, it becomes bearable. That’s what so many have done for me.
So this year – my reflection is less a lesson or platitude, but it’s really a song of gratitude. I can’t help but be grateful for so many who have sat with me. Given me hope. For those who I have gotten to sit with – allowed me to enter in to their vulnerability and weakness. That in itself is a gift. I’m grateful for my friends and family and even strangers who have been “with me” and I with them. For a God – who somehow became a baby just like me, because of a love for a broken world.
Whether I just met you this year or I haven’t seen you in forever (and really whether we have the same beliefs or not), you have in so many wonderful ways revealed that Christ child and His presence and hope to me.
A heartfelt thank you.
Merry Christmas to all of you!