From my heart to yours
The inn was full. When Joseph knocked,
his wife was already in labour; there was no room
even for compassion. Until the barn was offered.
That was the precipitating factor. A child was born,
And the pattern changed forever, the cosmos
shaken with that silent explosion.
– Madeleine L’Engle
Responses to the season of Christmas are varied. For some, it is just like another day, while for others, they push the boat out and the plastic card gets used, often to the limit. The familiar slogans and jingles are now being heard in shopping malls and on the radio, yet for many, peace and joy to all, rings hollow. I was reminded of this when I read the introduction of an electronic book I hope to read on my study leave called the Biology of Transcendence: A Blueprint for the Human Spirit by Joseph Chilton Pearce:
“ Sat Prem, a French writer who moved to India following World War 2, recently asked this question: “ Why after thousands of years of meditation has human nature not changed one iota?’ In the same vein, why, after two thousand years of Bible quoting, proselytising, praying hymn singing, cathedral building, Witch burning and missionary zeal has civilization grown more violent and efficient in mass murder?”
I admit, when I first read this, I nodded in agreement. For on a global perspective this quote may be true; the world is not a better place because of Christ. Of course this is the macro view, or big picture perspective. But, wait there is always more happening; on a micro level, communities are making a difference in the lives of individuals. Sometimes it is easy to lose sight of what is happening right under our noses.
Looking at the Christmas story, the big picture, there is no room anywhere, everywhere the NO VACANCY sign is up. Yet, that is not the end of the story, there is a space available, in a barn with the animals. Not a place where we expect human beings to sleep never mind give birth to a baby. Yet for many millions in our world today, they live with their animals week in week out. Returning to the Christmas story, on a micro level this made all the difference to a young couple and the birth of their baby.
There is a hidden theme weaving its way through the Christmas story, it is present, but hidden, it is making a difference for good namely, taking a risk for love. Read any part of the Christmas narratives and something good, something beautiful happens, which is the difference that makes a difference.
This is what I want to highlight for this Christmas, making a difference for good. It is also the focus of our mission statement here at St Aidans; we are an inclusive Christian community seeking to make a difference starting with ourselves.
In highlighting making a difference on a local or micro level, is not denying or ignoring the macro or global level. Indeed I am reminded of the slogan:
‘Think Global, act locally’
This phase has been attributed to Patrick Geddes (1854 – 1932), who was a Scottish biologist, sociologist, philanthropist and pioneering town planner. The original use of this phrase was in environmental issues, to consider the health of the whole plant while focusing on the particular local issue. Each is interconnected with the other.
I readily admit that it is very easy to be so overwhelmed by what is happening on a global level that we forget the local level and vice versa, we can be so absorbed at what we are doing on a local level, that we forget the larger picture of how we fit into the world.
This was brought home to me a few weeks ago when I was a guest at a NZ Citizenship Ceremony held at the Bruce Mason Centre. The variety of ethnicities and cultures present was truly amazing. Truly we are living in a global village.
Courtesy of Wikipedia: the term ‘Global Village’ is a term closely associated with Marshall McLuhan, popularized in his books The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man (1962) and Understanding Media (1964). McLuhan described how the globe has been contracted into a village by electric technology and the instantaneous movement of information from every quarter to every point at the same time. Today, the term “Global Village” is mostly used as a metaphor to describe the Internet and World Wide Web. On the Internet, physical distance is even less of a hindrance to the real-time communicative activities of people, and therefore social spheres are greatly expanded by the openness of the web and the ease at which people can search for online communities and interact with others that share the same interests and concerns.
Sometime after creating the term ‘Global Village’ McLuhan started to use the term ‘Global Theatre’ to emphasise the changeover from consumer to producer, from acquisition to involvement, from job holding to role playing. Space forbids a fuller explanation of what he actually means by this term. But my imagination began to wander, for it offers a way we may view life. Is life just a role we play, we adopt a role, and never actually share what is happening deep within our being. The reality of the outside world is kept at a distance and the language of the heart is never revealed.
This echoes the words of the Bard himself William Shakespeare in ‘As you like it’:
All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
We may feel at times that we are acting a part on the stage and we wonder if what we are living is real and / or what is a fantasy. Then all of sudden, something happens, just like what happened on:
The evening of 22nd November 1963, British novelist and playwright David Lodge was watching one of his own creations, a satirical revue.
The theatre audience was enjoying the play, in a particular scene they laughed as an actor in the play showed up for an interview with a transistor radio clutched to his ear, demonstrating his characters blasé indifference to life
The actor then set down the radio and tuned to a station so that music, news and commercials played in the background while the play went on.
The suddenly that night a voice came on the radio with a live news bulletin.
“Today the American President John F Kennedy was assassinated”
The audience gasped, and the actor immediately switched off the radio, but too late.
In an instance the reality of the outside world had shattered the artificial world of the theatre. Suddenly what action took place on stage seemed superficial and irrelevant. On the stage of our lives, at different times reality breaks in, and we are changed forever. For some it is a telephone call from a family member, while for others it is sitting in a doctors room hearing a diagnosis, while for others the death of a loved one leaves us changed forever.
In these moments, we experience the language of the heart, we are unable to rationalise and reason ourselves out of what we feel. For the 17th Century French Mathematician Blaise Pascal was right when he wrote ‘The heart as its reasons, which reason knows nothing of.’
The language of the heart is the language of life itself. Isak Dinesen (Author: Out of Africa) tells the story from her years spent in Africa. One day, out in the bush, she came upon a beautiful snake its skin glistening with subtle, variety of colours. She raved so much about that snakeskin that one of her house servants killed the snake, skinned it and made it into a belt for her. To her great dismay, that glistening skin was now just dull and gray. For all along the beauty had lain not in the physical skin but in the quality of its aliveness.
Christmas, in its various ways of perception is also a time for appreciating the aliveness that is present in another human being, present in the language of the heart, to feel strangely warmed, to feel the pain of separation in a ways which reason knows nothing off. It is a time to think about the big picture, also were we are able, to act locally, seeking to make a difference for good with love with those we meet locally within our communities.
I take this opportunity to wish you and those you love, deep peace and love this Christmas season.
May you risk love to make a difference in the life of another human traveller.
I leave you with this poem:
The Risk of Birth, Christmas, 1973
This is no time for a child to be born,
With the earth betrayed by war and hate
And a nova lighting the sky to warn
That time runs out and the sun burns late.
That was no time for a child to be born,
In a land in the crushing grip of Rome;
Honour and truth were trampled by scorn—
Yet here did the Saviour make his home.
When is the time for love to be born?
The inn is full on the planet earth,
And by greed and pride the sky is torn
Love still takes the risk of birth
– Madeleine L’Engle