Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas

For a lot of people, at the center of Christmas are family, friends, laughter, and cookies. Call me cold and heartless, but the center of Christmas, to me, is still the religious principle, the magnum mysterium of the divine becoming earthly, the ideal becoming real (maybe I've been reading too much Plato). This morning's gospel reading was the beginning of St. John, my favorite passage in the Bible--you know, the "in the beginning was the Word" one. One line particularly struck me because of our running theme in Chaucer class all semester, and in thinking about it I realized that in those lines is what I believe to be the true meaning of Christmas:

And the Word became flesh;
And made his dwelling among us.

My Chaucer professor got us all quite interested in the poetics of dwelling: what it means to dwell and how we express that meaning through language. Dwelling, we learned, originally implied a temporary state: to dwell meant to linger, but only for a while. Part of learning how to "dwell" on this earth is learning how to deal with our own temporariness. God, in theory, never needs to deal with this sense; he is the binary opposite of temporality. But in Christianity, the birth of Christ represents God allowing himself to become temporary for a time, to "dwell"--to linger--among us.

But dwelling is not just being. It's a way of being (see Heidegger); it's the way we interact with the space around us. Dwelling means dealing with that world, its people, its weather, its fate, its greenery. To make a dwelling means both to build a house, and to build this kind of relationship with the world. Christ, John is telling us, built his home here on earth, with all the temporality that that implies.

There's something marvellous there, especially in the idea that it's the "word" that's coming to build its dwelling with us. John was so deeply aware of language that he managed to write the entire opening to his gospel writing about it and its limits--and God--all at the same time. The word become flesh indeed.

Merry Christmas to all who celebrate, and much love to everyone else.

3 comments:

Jessica Smith said...

ok, this is beautiful, ania, but one of the things that has bothered me about christianity is precisely this. because if jesus=god=holy spirit, then he is never *really* mortal, just faking it. and if we really have everlasting life, then we're not really temporary either. so then of what value is mortal life? the value of such has been repeatedly denied (which also leads to all sorts of sexism since women have been seen as the entry/exit point of mortality). there was a good article about this in a recent NLH (last spring i think).

good luck with your final semester! and love to you and yours too. of all messages transcribed in the bible, i tend to think that one is the most important. (logically, it hinges on your observation: if we are dwelling temporarily in this space, we should make it as pleasant as possible for one another, rather than a state of suffering.)

AW said...

i agree totally that the message to love is the key of the bible, which is what tweaks me about about so many christian fundamentalists: they just don't seem to get what that really means.

i don't think that christ=god means that christ isn't *really* mortal. i guess we play the what-if game: what if he had died some other way than a crucifiction? what if he had chosen not to do as his father asked (as the story goes)? would he then not have been raised, and then not immortal, and then not saved everyone? to me, christ as fully man and fully divine always carries with him the potentiality (in agamben's sense) to sin, to fail. his success is not a given.

to me the whole fully-human and fully-divine thing is exactly the nature of faith/spirituality/divine. it's impossible, so it's exactly the kind of thing god is capable of, and is proof of his god-ness. it's what my college art professor would call a bridging of eternal discontinuities; it's as if someone blended two of the color blocks of a rothko painting while being able to keep the colors entirely separate.

AW said...

right, and oh the other part of your comment. the value of mortal life. i guess i see it this way: that divine and mortal life in many ways are opposites: everlasting, temporal; perfect, imperfect, etc. But, as you said with the bible, part of our responsibility in dwelling in a mortal life is to make it joyful. you can do that and still recognize its imperfections, i think. for chaucer & co (and from barbara nolan, our professor-slash-group-therapy-guru last year), accepting the temporality of mortality partly the depressing, devaluing act you mention, but also the freeing act that lets you accept, move on, and have a great time.