Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Singularity of Bethlehem

I am always looking for ways to make Christmas an actual celebration of the event of Incarnation. By rejecting the liturgical year but keeping Christmas, Protestants have left themselves with a single day that can not bear the weight of all the expectations (both Christian and ‘secular’) that we have put on it. So for the last 5 years or so I have tried to embrace the rhythms of the liturgical calendar, working advent readings into my devotions and observing Christmas for more than just the 25th (as the church historically has done). So I am always looking for new ways to make Advent and Christmas reflective and worshipful.

Recently I have been leaning on poetry. This year I tried to create some. I challenged myself to write a poem in the last week of Advent that I would post regardless of its quality on Christmas Eve. I have already given my disclaimer for my brutal poetry, but I recently encountered this quote in Martian Luther’s Bondage of the will:

“What if any one, intending to compose a poem…should never think about, or inquire into his abilities, what he could do, and what he could not do…what would you think of such a poet?”

Hopefully you would think well of such a poet…or at least one who has considered his abilities, found them wanting, and tried any way.

The Singularity of Bethlehem

A misplaced star
awkwardly indicates
the singularity of Bethlehem.

The God-man paradox
even more befuddling
in its God-baby instance.

The infinite packed into
an adorable, finite vessel
Glory squished so dense.

The intractable mystery
suffers not from a deficit of intelligibility,
but a surplus.

God con-carne, meated
redeeming and ennobling flesh.

God soils his swaddle.
Meconium declares the glory of God.
The co-suffer has come to share our shit.

Wizards from distant deserts
and sheep wranglers from proximal hills
seekers and the sought
worship the baby

‘Who can abide the day of his coming’
Today as a helpless baby
Tomorrow, tatted up and into swords.

This annual training in waiting.

Well if you got through that, here is one of my favorite actual poems that I use in my Advent devotions. I don’t know if it is actually a Christmas poem (or even a Christian Poem), but it certainly does the job:

Black Rook in Rainy Weather

On the stiff twig up there
Hunches a wet black rook
Arranging and rearranging its feathers in the rain.
I do not expect a miracle
Or an accident

To set the sight on fire
In my eye, not seek
Any more in the desultory weather some design,
But let spotted leaves fall as they fall,
Without ceremony, or portent.

Although, I admit, I desire,
Occasionally, some backtalk
From the mute sky, I can't honestly complain:
A certain minor light may still
Leap incandescent

Out of the kitchen table or chair
As if a celestial burning took
Possession of the most obtuse objects now and then ---
Thus hallowing an interval
Otherwise inconsequent

By bestowing largesse, honor,
One might say love. At any rate, I now walk
Wary (for it could happen
Even in this dull, ruinous landscape); sceptical,
Yet politic; ignorant

Of whatever angel may choose to flare
Suddenly at my elbow. I only know that a rook
Ordering its black feathers can so shine
As to seize my senses, haul
My eyelids up, and grant

A brief respite from fear
Of total neutrality. With luck,
Trekking stubborn through this season
Of fatigue, I shall
Patch together a content

Of sorts. Miracles occur,
If you care to call those spasmodic
Tricks of radiance miracles. The wait's begun again,
The long wait for the angel.
For that rare, random descent.

-Sylvia Plath

Have a great Christmas.

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