Star of the Nativity – Joseph Brodsky
In the cold season, in a locality accustomed to heat more
to cold, to horizontality more than to a mountain,
a child was born in a cave in order to save the world:
it blew as only in deserts in winter it blows, athwart.
To Him, all things seemed enormous: His mother’s breast,
out of the ox’s nostrils, Caspar, Balthazar, Melchior – the team
of Magi, their presents heaped by the door, ajar.
He was but a dot, and a dot was the star.
Keenly, without blinking, through pallid, stray
clouds, upon the child in the manger, from far away –
from the depth of the universe, from its opposite end – the star
was looking into the cave. And that was the Father’s stare.
December 24, 1987
In times like these I keep thinking. Judging from the state of things, not much of that is going on these days, there being so many many distractions demanding our attention every moment of every digital day, that collectively we seem to have lost our ability to think, to reflect, to remember. Sure, the story itself makes little or no sense – God comes down to the Third Rock from the Sun, landing in some undistinguished locale in an outlying suburb of the Roman Empire, not for anything we have done to deserve such a visit, but simply as a gesture of divine love for one’s own Creation – and no doubt as a warning that he is serious about how things ought to be? Can be? Might be, if only……
In times like these I keep thinking. Reflecting really. Pondering. When was the last time you just sat and pondered without the clik and clak of the keyboard, or point and touch of the touch pad, while scrolling through endless lovely thoughts and diatribes on facebook, coming up with a clever repost, which inevitably bursts into a flaming war of words, when all you need to do is to ponder, reflect, think? In the silence, in the silence.
In times like these I keep thinking. It takes perseverance when one considers the losses of the past year, the past months, the past weeks. Amidst such losses, thinking hurts. Thinking becomes hard work. Thinking morphs into grieving, mourning, saddening, angering, and just plain too much feeling.
So in times like these I try to remember – the Father’s stare, that star, that starlight from the farthest opposite end, depth, dimension of the universe, comes to enlighten me, us, we, all, of, humanity -traveling at the speed of light, racing to greet us this new day, every day. When do we ever have time to stop and just think about it? I wonder on this day of wonder. I marvel on this marvelous day. So transcendent, so far away, yet yearning to be so near, to us, creatures made imago Dei, in the image of God were we created, male and female, created in God’s image. Try to think on that. Try to remember. And wonder. What does that mean?
It is Richard Rohr, I think, in his book The Naked Now, who reflects on the absolute nearness of God. He reminds us of the ancient Hebrew command, Thou shalt not take God’s name in vain. Recalling that in that venerable Hebrew tradition, the tradition of Jesus, the name of God is literally not to be pronounced, so sacred is the name, so sacred is the command. It is formed of four letters, four consonants really: yodh, he, vav, he – which transliterated looks like YHWH. Attempts to force a pronunciation in the 19th century botched it into Jehovah, which is probably not a word at all – or at least, not that word. Now a longstanding assumption is that it is something more like Yahweh. When encountered in the sacred texts in public and private reading it is rendered Adonai, or Elohim, out of respect for the holy name, out of respect for the mystery at the opposite end of the universe that stands behind the name, the name in itself, it’s self, as perhaps someone like a Martin Heidegger might have put it.
Yet, Rohr teases out the current thinking – this collection of consonants, YHWH, were never meant to be spoken, let alone in vain, but rather were meant to be breathed. That is, YHWH is thought to be mimicking the sound of breathing in and breathing out, inhalation and exhalation. That is, says Rohr, the name of God is something we “say” every moment of every day. It is the first word we say at birth, and the last word we say at our death.
The implications of this are enormous, almost as immense as the entire universe itself. There is no American, Asian, African or European way of breathing. There is no Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist or Jewish way of breathing. There is no male or female, no young or old, no right or wrong, no left or right, no liberal or conservative way of breathing. We are all breathing the same air, recycled endlessly through photosynthesis and other natural processes, so that we are all breathing one and same breath. The air we breathe, that literally is life for all living things, travels on the wind, and like the wind blows where it will, we know not from whence it comes or whither it goes. This wind, this breath, will not, cannot, be controlled by any one group, any one religious tradition. By this simple act of life, breathing, we are all one, we are all united, we are all in this together – together we breathe the name of God every moment of every day.
Breathing connects even the earliest caveman to the most modern of astronauts and cosmonauts circling this fragile earth our island home on the International Space Station. And modern science has determined that the very atoms we breathe every moment of every day all come from the first moment of the Big Bang, such that we are breathing this eternal stardust as we say the name of God with each inhalation and exhalation, making it no longer a mysterious desire, but rather our unity with God and one another is an irreducible scientific fact!
In times like these I keep on thinking. Try it, you’ll like it. You need no internet connection to do it. Perhaps like me you might conclude that Christmas has little to do with Christianity, the Church and all that. Christmas has everything to do with who we are, where we come from and how we are united one to another, in the light of the Father’s stare. Look into that cave. And what do you see?
Merry Christmas! God bless us, every one. Amen.