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Re-Imaging Christmas


Yvonne
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Today I began my annual Christmas baking and candy-making, and to put myself in the mood, I listened to Christmas carrols. I was reminded of the so-beautiful metaphor of joining of heaven and earth that Wayseeker used in the "Christmass Unwrapped" thread.

 

I have begun to re-image or re-interpret some of the more traditional icons and symbols of Christianity to make them meaningful to me now - as a PC. For example, as a Catholic, I was raised with the Marion tradition. I have re-interpretted some of the Marian images to be Sophie, the Wisdom of God/Goddess or the sacred feminie.

 

My question to you: have you or will you re-image Christmas symbols? If so, how?

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I have to confess that it is this time of year I mourn the loss of my faith more than ever.

 

I would bathe myself in the myth and tradition with great exuberance and joy. When our children were little, we embraced the Advent calendar, the holy countdown, the Christmas plays and concerts.

 

I was truly drunk with the Spirit!

 

Although I find my life far richer and more meaningful since abandoning Christianity, I still wax nostalgic this time of year.

 

More than likely, we will attend Midnight Mass with family. It now rings hollow when the scripture from Isaiah is read, and the carols no longer produce goose flesh. I will mumble during the recitation of the creeds and adoration.

 

It's the closest I will come to backsliding.

 

But when the cold, harsh light of reality slaps me back to reason, I will rejoice in the truly profound meaning embodied in the date December Twenty-fifth: from here on out, the days grow longer! Only a few short months 'til the Ides of March!!

 

Felice Navidad!

 

NORM

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I love Advent season for the Autumn-to-Winter transition that is conducive to a certain melancholy and contemplation. 'In the Bleak Midwinter' seems very fitting a song for such a quality of becoming. I love many of the traditional carols. At this time of year I also enjoy the wintertime poems of the hermit monks of China, and the prayers of Thomas Merton. The theme of incarnation in the darkest of days is a powerful one. There is a similar nativity story in the life of Krishna, but there is a minimalist charm in the Christian narrative that I find suggestive and appealing.

 

If you like the themes of Christmas and the divine feminine, I could recommend the albums of Katy Taylor.

 

Peace,

Mike

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Norm, a year ago, my sentiments mirrored your own - I felt hollow at Christmas and Easter. Something changed in me, though. The traditional carols still give me goose bumps, not for the words, but for the music. It allows me to reflect on simpler times - as a child - when the family came together and the season was special for more than the giving of gifts. It was a time for family and celebration.

 

Mike - I, too, find the time of Advent to have a certain melancholy - which makes me reflect on just what Christmas means to me. I have been thinking quite a bit about Wayseeker's metaphor and the idea of the so-called pagan traditions at the winter soltice. To me, it was quite clever of Christian leaders to adopt the Winter Soltice as the celebration of the birth of "the Light".

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That's a good question, Yvonne.

 

I, too, am trying to reinterpret and translate many things in my religious past into something meaningful in my present (and hopefully future) faith. Here are just a few thoughts that, because my past religion was so literal, I now see more as metaphor, which I find to be more meaningful than the literal interpretations.

 

I used to be upset that the gospel of John has no birth narrative for Jesus. There is no manger, no wise men, no shepherds in the field, no angels. But, in retrospect, there is this strong notion of heaven coming to earth. What I mean by that, as the mystic apostle Paul said, is that the invisible divinity (character of God) became visible humanity. John says that the Logos (God's wisdom or plan or "logic"), which had always been with him, took on flesh and blood in the person of Jesus. This is very similar to the OT notion that God's wisdom was feminine, that it was God's womb that gave birth to the world. What John is putting forth, imo, is the early Christian belief that God was beginning a new creation with the birth, person, and ministry of Jesus, a new heavens and a new earth where God was no longer confined to the heavens and dwelt with and in mankind on the earth. In God's Logos, in his wisdom and life-giving womb, we see birthed a new cosmos where God lives in us. This is quite anti-thetical to the OT notions of Yahweh whom no one could see. The NT says that God is now "seen" and known in people, especially as seen in the person of Jesus the Christ. And this theme of God giving new birth "born again" by God's Spirit (feminine in the OT) is a strong one throughout John's gospel. God is doing a new creation, says John, and Jesus calls us into that new creation. The other gospels call this the kingdom of God (or the kingdom of heaven), but John calls this "life of the ages", eternal life.

 

Important to this notion is that when the Logos was incarnated, it did not come to the center of earthly power. It did not come to Caesar in Rome or to Herod in Jerusalem. It came to a poor couple in the backwater town of Nazareth, which would be equivalent to the "southside" of many of our modern cities. The Logos came to the poor, the humble, the "nobodies" who were nothing in this world. And even though the evil powers of this world tried to kill the "firstborn" of this new creation, they could not.

 

Similarly, the shepherds, who were amongst the poorest of Judeans come to see this Wisdom taking on flesh and blood. God's wisdom is available to all, despite class distinctions. The shepherds were probably the lowest of the low. Yet they, according to the gospel, beheld the joining of heaven and earth, God's invisible wisdom becoming human in a person.

 

The wise men, who were probably astrologers, came from the East, bearing gifts for the baby. This tells us that God's wisdom, his plan to redeem creation by joining heaven and earth, is not just for the Jews. The wise men were Gentiles, they were not "of the faith." But they came, following their own "light" to find a greater Light. God's wisdom is available to all, despite race distinctions. They did not have to become Jews, an issue that the apostle Paul had to later deal with. Instead, they contributed their own gifts to the Light of the world.

 

And as Mike has said, there is the strong theme that God's wisdom often comes to us when things around us seem the darkest. In Genesis, it is out of darkness that God creates light. In the gospel of John, it is into the darkness that God sends his Light. And that Light, according to John, is the Light of all of mankind.

 

In my opinion, the gospel of John is still very "Christmas-y". It is about the feminine Wisdom (Logos) of God being born of God's womb and shining down into our world of darkness. This is why, again imo, if we took this metaphor (not literally but) seriously, we would see that following Jesus is about being wise in this world, about how we should live. God's Sophia is not a plan to escape the darkness, but to banish the darkness by shining the Light. Many of our Christmas decorations have to do with this very notion - that it is light (Wisdom) that we need. Christmas tells us that it is available to everyone. God so loved the world that he sent his Wisdom to us. And that Wisdom is our Light.

Edited by Wayseeker
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Nice post.

 

Yvonne,

I don’t know what it’s like to grow up Catholic (though many of my friends were!) and perhaps I’m not exactly understanding your point, but it reminds me of Marcus Borg’s writing about Jesus as the Sophia become flesh. I’m not familiar with the Marian tradition, but to me, Jesus, his mother, and Mary Magdalene (among others) all embody Sophia as the feminine aspect of the divine. As Wayseeker suggested, Christmas calls attention to the womblike nature of compassion, whether in men or women.

 

Your idea of a revised image of Christmas also resonates with a book I’ve been reading by Cynthia Bourgeault, The Wisdom Jesus. She says that for the earliest Christians, Jesus was not known as the Savior but as the Life-giver. There was no Aramaic word for salvation—or it was understood as a bestowal of life. Whereas soteriology emphasizes how Jesus was different, belonging to a higher order and sent to be our mediator; sophiology focuses on how Jesus is like us, what he did that we are also called to do. It’s a shift from a negative to more positive view of humanity. “The first step in joining him on this journey is to recognize that his incarnation is not about fall, guilt, and blame, but about goodness, solidarity, and our own intimate participation in the mystery of love at the heart of all creation.”

 

Or another way of putting it I’ve always liked, is John Spong saying “To be in Christ is not to be religious, but to come alive. To be made whole, affirmed…to be the self we were created to be.”

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I think, perhaps, my question was not clear:

 

Traditional imgages, such as the baby in the manger, the magi (or kings or wise men) bringing gifts, the shepherds (and animals) coming to worship, Mary and Joseph bowing before the baby, and an angel hovering above all tells a literal story for traditional Christians. I am trying to re-image these images - in music and in conept - and re-interpret the Christmas story to take it out of the literal realm. My question was, have you re-interpretted these images and if so, how.

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Yvonne, I don't know if my reinterpretation of these traditional images is helpful for you or not. I'm simply sharing how I am doing it, how they speak to me.

 

I don't take the stories in Matthew and Luke as literal history. In fact, I don't even hold to the belief that many Christians have that Jesus is the second person of the Trinity that pre-existed his birth and then was born into our world; or to the belief that Jesus was God (Yahweh) who came to earth zipped up in a "man-suit" (docetism). I can say with no cognitive dissonance that I see Jesus as the son of God, but not that I see Jesus as God the Son. But, that's just me.

 

This forces me to reinterpret the birth accounts into metaphorical images that go beyond literalism to either religious or spiritual meaning.

 

That being said, the other image that works for me, metaphorically speaking, is that when we experience God's presence "coming to this world" (i.e. heaven coming to earth), we don't find it in an all-powerful manifestation. We don't find it in warrior-kings who come to rule the nations with a rod of iron. Neither do we find it in the power of religious institutions whose goal is to decide who is on God's good side and who just doesn't measure up. Instead, we find it in a helpless infant. We find God in the overlooked, in those who have no "earthly power." He doesn't come to our world in the rich and powerful. He comes to the poor and powerless.

 

This, to me, has direct application in that if we seek to follow Jesus, then we are not here to set up our own little kingdoms of the rich and powerful. We are here to say that, yes, left to our own devices and resources, we are helpless. But we are not hopeless because God has not left us to our own devices and resources.

 

To me, the Christmas story is not about an all-powerful deity arriving to earth to do all the work to save us (the typical Superman myth). Rather, it is about God being found in someone who was neither rich nor powerful, but who had hope that God could and would bring heaven to earth if we would seek his way of living - a life lived in self-sacrificing love for the sake of others.

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For me the Christmas story is more meaningful to me now if I accept it as a parabilic account rather than just another history lesson to learn that you have no choice but to believe. No one would say that the parable of the prodigal son must be literally true for it to have any meaning but all Christians agree that the factualility of the prodigal son parable isn't what matters to the story; rather what matters is the spirituality of the story. The same thing applies to the virgin birth myths which come more alive when you understand everything that went into their making and how they came to evolve over time. For me the virgin birth myths symbolize God bringing the light of Christ into a time of darkness rather than being primarily about whether Mary had a literal virgin birth or not. Interpreted this way the virgin birth myths are more than just about the birth of Jesus but are also calls for social justice for us to bring about the kingdom of God on Earth by rejecting the Herods of today's societies and the dogmatism of imperial theology. Another interesting aspect to the virgin birth accounts that gets lost if you read them literally is the different emphasis Matthew and Luke place on the role of women. Even though Matthew's account is about the Virgin Mary, she actually plays very little role in the story and only has like one speaking part in it with all the emphasis placed on the men as the main leaders of the narrative.

 

Luke, however, emphasizes the role of women, featuring even a woman prophet, Anna, and expanding on the roles of Mary and her relative. This diverse portrayal of women in the accounts shows that contrary to the claim of fundamentalist Christians, the bible does not have a single universal patriarchal view of women but the bible's view of women was always constantly changing. It should be noted that to the best of my knowledge the original Greek text of the NT does not actually say whether or not the magi were men or how many that they were. That interpretation comes from a Christmas carol that simply assumed the magi had to be three wise kings even though the gospels never say they were kings either. So it's also possible there could have been women among the magi as much as it was possible that the magi were three kings. A really good book on the symbolic interpretation of the virgin birth accounts that I would highly recommend reading is the book The First Christmas by Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan who dissect the virgin birth accounts in great detail and reimagine the accounts into a very exciting and inspiring parable that can still speak to us today in the 21st century.

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I'm all for symbolic interpretation of the nativity -- if not for that, how else could it be applicable to today's context? By its very nature it is a story -- and stories happen at a unique time and place. For me Christmas has remained predominantly a story of incarnation...even though the gospels themselves don't talk about it as such. Go figure. But that's the tradition; I happen to like it. For me Jesus is the one who has come from the truth. He embodied truth and blazed a path toward it. Post-resurrection, Christ 'disappeared beautifully into the truth.' There is light in the darkest of days, because meaning is never separate from this truth. That is what incarnation means to me at present.

 

Peace,

Mike

Edited by Mike
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As far as “trying to re-image these images - in music and in concept - and re-interpret the Christmas story to take it out of the literal realm”--there are ways of re-framing the season, bringing it into the present, like these words from Bruce Sanguin’s blog --

 

“I found out that Advent is more about the second coming of Christ than it is about Jesus’ birth.…What is it that can evoke in us this state of alert expectation? For me, it is hope. It is staking my life on the promise of a new order of consciousness, interpersonal connection, and a social system that reflects the heart and mind of the Christ, or Holy Wisdom. In a cynical and pessimistic world, this does take courage.

The baby Jesus is an intimate expression of the point and purpose of the cosmos, a hint of where our evolutionary trajectory is headed. Paul was transformed by an intuition and direct experience that a new creation…had been ushered in by the life, death, and resurrection of the one we call the Christ. The beauty of this perspective is that the emergence of a new humanity is just getting underway. Far from ending with the baby Jesus, the promise is always in the process of being realized in, through, and as us. To experience Advent is to ask ourselves if we are willing, with Mary, to consciously utter the words that still have the power to bring about a new order of love and compassion: Let it be to me according to your word --according to the promise of a better future that cannot be born without our willing and joyful consent.”

 

http://ifdarwinpraye...less-adventory/

 

Sanguin would also probably have some suggestions about contemporary music alternatives, if you communicate with him.

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That our different journeys have led us independently to such similar shared perceptions about this is to me quite a validation of the soundness of the core matters here we are trying to grasp and articulate.

 

As I have in my own understandings and interpretations come to so many elements that are not only shared in common with others such as here, but that once even slightly comprehended, begin to reveal something ineffable and universal among human kind underlying the many different launguages, both in a cutural sense, and pardigm sense (ie different religions, theories of different psychologists and philosophers). So many models arising out of so many different grounds of human experience and thought are clearly describing the same things. A rose by any other name smells as sweet kind of principle.

 

For me as well, this time is one of a sense of a pregnant silence, a reverent anticipation, of the birth of something new, in all ranges from the personal and individual to the greater whole of humanity's evolution. To me, the birth of Jesus, the Christ Child, is about incarnation at all these levels....of something new being born to humanity, and to each person individually. I think of how many times in the Jesus story there is an element of a process of "stages" that can be related to spiritual development toward something new, or in Jungian launguage, the process of individuation. In the Jesus story, Mary's impregnation by the Holy Spirit, to concieve a new person, a new child, that conception nurtured within her body toward the birth of that child into the world, as a mortal human child, that child growing to adulthood toward a second impregnation at the occasion of Jesus' baptism, as the Holy Spirit descended upon Him as like a dove, to abide with, and within him, toward the stage at which it was time for that mortal child to be put to death, that the fully spiritual new being, the resurrected Jesus, could arise from the grave, that mortal 'body of death'.

 

I know that in my own life journey, I have experienced such dramatic moments of transition, sometimes expressed in such metaphors as the procession of the egg to the larvae to the mature catapillar that is the immature predecessor to the emergent butterfly. In that metaphor, many people not educated in biology do not realize that when the catapillar enters the cocoon, it has entered a stage of the process in which it is literally dissolved and reformed...it isn't merely a process of the cataplillar sprouting wings, it is re-formed into an entirely new creature.

 

The theme of a process in stages is found in many biblcal stories. I think of, have myself felt like, the blind man to whom Jesus healed, made to see, in a mutliple stage process. After Jesus' first touch, the blind man said he could see light and images, but without meaning, he said he say men as trees walking. It was Jesus' second touch that allowed him to see men as men. There had to be a meaning in that other than Jesus just didn't quite get the job done right the first time.

 

I have experienced a sense of "spiritual reality" over my lifetime in which there have been dramatic stages of development evident. And at least one was preceeded by such a time, of a profound sense of that sort of stillness, anticipation, pregnant silence, waiting and knowing something new was about to be born...for me, this is the "place" to which I return at this time of year, and into which I usually immerse myself most fully in the late hours of Christmass Eve. I experience then, such a sense of peace, of a completion, around the midnight hour of that night, as if I've sat a vigil, and that for which I've sat in wait, is completed, is done. At that point, I experiences such a peace and repose, that i am ready to slip into bed, into a deep and peaceful sleep. Yes, that is somewhat the sense of how it has felt for me in my real life experience immediately following the birth of my 4 children....it's done, the work is done, there may be still a lot of work ahead, when I take that baby home, begin the task of raising the child, but for now, this work is done, and all I want to do is rest, sleep for awhile.

 

Jenell

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Such beautiful images you all shared! And yes, they do fit very nicely with my reinterpretations. This advent and this Christmas promise to be exceptionally poignant because of the freedom I have found in expressing myself (and sharing it with you) outside the traditional, literal interpretations of the season.

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Might we plan a shared time of silent or quiet meditation and prayer in those late hours of Dec 24 th, joining in union of mind, spirit, and heart, even if miles apart? Each using their own adpated images, recitations, songs, rituals, etc as meaningful to us? I think something like tat woud, have a powerful potential for shared faith and spritual experuence,

 

Jenell

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Didn't we just do that? You and I just did, anyway, lol.

 

Actually, I usually devote an earlier part of my evening on Dec 24th conciously acknowledging that I am not alone at that time, that there are many others entering spiritual meditation, toward seeking into spiritual communion within ourself, with the divine, the ground of being, and all those others doing the same that evening. We don't have to share a geographical location to enter into that communion together. I try to think about, visualize meeting and greeting, spiritual brethren I personally know, and know will be joining this time of communion, both indivudual persons, and various faith and spiritual communities and groups with which i feel some affiliation and connection with. With some of those, I have something, an image, a phrase, something, that is agreed upon within the group as our shared "focus for attunement" among ourselves in shared distance meditations and prayer times...for my White Eagle Lodge friends and brethren within our Star Group, for example, I have a small print of their 6-pointed white star symbol bathing the earth in it's light, hanging on a wall near in my usual area of prayer and meditation, ...it only takes a moment to acknowledge each, and by the time I'm done with that and move into personal meditation, I feel as if i am in essence sharing the presence of many others doing the same, all in one grand worldwide temple.

 

So all i need do is add those here to those I will bring to mind as sharing the epxeirence with me that evening.

 

Jenell :)

Edited by JenellYB
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This poem/prayer was written by Thomas Merton. It is a Marian Canticle, and appears in 'A Book of Hours' (Merton). I've posted this elsewhere a couple of Advents ago. Always puts me in a Christmas mood.

 

 

Go, roads, to the four quarters of our quiet distance,

While you, full moon, wise queen,

Begin your evening journey to the hills of heaven,

And travel no less stately in the summer sky

Than Mary, going to the house of Zachary.

 

The woods are silent with the sleep of doves,

The valleys with the sleep of streams,

And all our barns are happy with peace of cattle

gone to rest.

 

Still wakeful, in the fields, the shocks of wheat

Preach and say prayers:

You sheaves, make all your evensongs as sweet as ours,

Whose summer world, all ready for the granary and barn,

Seems to have seen, this day,

Into the secret of the Lord's Nativity.

 

Now at the fall of night, you shocks

Still bend your heads like kind and humble kings

The way you did this golden morning when you saw

God's Mother passing,

While all our windows fill and sweeten

With the mild vespers of the hay and barley.

 

You moon and rising stars, pour on our barns and houses

Your gentle benedictions.

Remind us how our Mother, with far subtler

and more holy influence,

Blesses our rooves and eaves,

Our shutters, lattices and sills,

Our doors, and floors, and stairs, and rooms,

and bedrooms,

Smiling by night upon her sleeping children:

O gentle Mary! Our lovely Mother in heaven!

Edited by Mike
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I guess im sort of lucky I was raised a JW and never celebrated christmas so I have nothing to miss or re imagine. That being said I have learned to have a little fun with christmas now that I'm grown and have kids I get into it for them.To have church and christmas tangled together is a weird concept but I feel for those who have that history and now have a different concept.

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Hello Mark. Welcome.

 

I personally enjoy my memories and feelings about Christmas; it has always been about family, community and activity, warmth in spite of the cold, and divine light. Societies need holidays and seasonal celebrations. It's something of a tragedy that ours happens to be so engulfed by marketing and materialism. But if one can look past all that (which isn't by any means easy), I think there's a great message there and opportunity for, well, as they say, good will toward men (and women).

 

Peace,

Mike

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