Sunday, December 24, 2017

2017.12.24 The Under-Genius of All Things—At Christmas

There is no joy that is not mixed with muck and muddle and cynical commentary and genuine pique, even if you hide it, eject it, silence it, blame it on the weather.  And  yet . . .

This morning we listened, my dear spouse and I, to the annual Kings College, Cambridge England, service of Nine Lessons and Carols. It is nothing if not utterly traditional. I admit to feeling tired, once again, of gendered language for the Holy. And yet  . . .

My emotions, my love of creativity, Creator God, and Beauty itself took over. Later I contented myself with a small addition to the wondrous words of the text of English poet Christina Rosetti (1830-1894) for the final stanza of the Christmas Carol: “In the bleak mid-winter.” 

What can I gave him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
if I were a wise man, I would do my part;
but since I am a woman, I would give my flesh;
yet what I can I give him:
     give my heart.

To abandon one’s very correct political correctness for the sake of God’s holiday—and ours—is what I think the late poet Brian Doyle means by having the courage to discern the “under-genius” of  it all at Christmas. 

Muttered Prayer in Thanks for the Under-Genius of Christmas

Putting up ye old fir tree last night, and pondering why again we slay a perfectly healthy tree ten years of age, not even a teenager yet, and prop up the body, and drape it with frippery, and then finally feed the brittle former vibrancy into a chipper, paying a grim Boy Scout five bucks for the privilege; I watched mine bride and children quietly for a while, from behind the tree where I was struggling with that haunted cursed string of lights, and I saw the under-genius of it all: I saw beneath the tinsel and nog, the snarl of commerce and the ocean of misspent money; I saw the quiet pleasure of ritual, the actual no-kidding, no-fooling urge to pause and think about other people and their joy, the anticipation of days spent laughing and shouldering in the kitchen, with no agenda and no press of duty. I saw the flash of peace and love under all the shrill selling and tinny theater; and I was thrilled and moved. And then I remembered too that the ostensible reason for it all was the Love being bold and brave enough to assume a form that would bleed and break and despair and die; and I was again moved, and abashed; and I finished untangling the epic knot of lights, shivering yet again with happiness that we were given such a sweet terrible knot of a world to untangle, as best we can, with bumbling love. And so: amen.
Do you risk having eyes and ears and nose for the under-genius of it all? 

As a child I was seized by my father’s absence from the tree project. Oh, he was present in body but he was preoccupied with his cocktail and didn’t join in. Perhaps he had suffered the epic tangle of lights. I don’t remember. I worried about him. I longed for him. I couldn’t understand why my mother and my sisters were jollily going along unheeding. There was something wrong with this picture, and I wept.

I could not yet see the under-genius of it all. If I had, I might have been able to join in and trim the tree without fear and inhibition. If I had, I might have called Daddy to come join us—just put one little bright ball on our tree. And he would have smiled, thanked me, and declined. If I had seen the under-genius of Christmas, I would have known that Daddy was there with us even if he couldn’t participate in the way I wanted. And that would’ve been enough. I also might have realized that my Daddy was not God— and maybe that there is a manger inside all of us. 

When I stop and notice the under-genius of Christmas I can see that joy is not happiness or maple syrup. It is an inner feeling of hope, hope so huge and defiant it counters all reason. It's the under-genius, the under-joy.  So I give my heart. 

Merry Christmas.