Epiphany’s Choice and the Environment: In Reverence to Honor, or in Fear to Destroy

Hang on, you there, packing up the Christmas lights, dismantling the tree, boxing up the crèche with its cast of characters and that long-tailed star. Christmas is not over. Sure, come December 26th, it may have been all over for the “Little Drummer Boy,” Bing Crosby, and the Nutcracker; but not quite for Christmas. The wise men are just now arriving. And those magi from the East, with their three auspicious gifts, are not simply late to the party. They inaugurate a whole new thing: public acknowledgment by the world’s powers, of a radically new kind of rule. They’re not the only ones who notice (cue the soundtrack for the dastardly villain). What gets me now, thinking as I have been about environmental issues in Jesus-ish terms, is how relevant the contrast between the wise men and Herod is still today.

Millet’s Calf, a Newborn Jesus, and God of Earth

Maybe it’s the way the light falls, illuminating the bed of straw like some upside-down and disheveled halo, all gold and shimmery, on which the baby lies – a baby cow, in this case. Or maybe it’s the calf’s beatific face, alert and looking straight out at us from the center of the canvas. I suspect part of it is the posture of the farmer and of his field hand, heads bent, and the care with which they carry the newborn toward the stone cottage (a human home, no doubt about that) and the little girls waiting there. Surely the mother has something to do with it — a spine-startling cow with skinny legs and modest udder, her head titled just so, her muzzle bumping the calf’s rear with that same attention to even the humblest body parts that a baby unashamedly demands. I don’t know why the woman is the only one with her mouth open – singing, speaking, calling, assuring…?Millet Peasants Bringing Home a Calf Born in the Fields

On This Feast Day of the Ass

Happy Feast Day of the Ass! No kidding. Animals get short shrift in religious beliefs and practice (apart from the Hindu cow, and sacrifice, of course), so I found it quite wonderful to stumble on an old tradition celebrating the biblical donkey.joseph-leading-mary-on-donkey

For a time, Christians seriously honored the animal who brought a pregnant Mary to Bethlehem and spirited the newborn Jesus to safety in Egypt. There is that sweet if monotonous Christmas carol in which the friendly animals each get a word: “I, said the donkey, shaggy and brown. I carried his mother up hill and down. I carried his mother to Bethlehem town. I, said the donkey shaggy and brown.” But the holiday has since died out.

Christmas, Fact and Fiction

*A version of this article is also available on The Huffington Post.

“We, three kings of Orient are,” intone the guys in robes and crowns. But were they really three, or 3 kings starkings for that matter, and from where exactly did they come? Every year at this time, questions about historicity – what really happened (and what didn’t) in the Christmas story — come bubbling up: that the infant’s first habitation was more cave than stable and possibly not in Bethlehem at all; that Jesus was born in or before 4 B.C., when the half-blood Herod died, rather than in the year zero, which Monk Dennis established centuries after the fact to launch the new anno domine era.

The Radical Vulnerability of God

As far as religious paradox goes, the radical vulnerability of God has got to take the cake (or the stollen, the bunuelos, the figgy pudding, the buche de noel, the truchas de navidad…).

As I’ve lost my grip on all the other Christmas traditions still dear to me — the weekly advent services leading up; making pepparkakor, rum balls, and sweet rye bread; practicing my piano part for the “Jesu Bambino” trio with my sisters; the pickled herring and cold duck; singing carols to myself while skiing through Lester/Amity’s quiet woods of birch and pine; even the iconic tree itself… Even as I’ve let these slip away in the context of new relationships and warmer climes (differently rich and delightful), there is one, sparkling mystery of the season that will not let me go.

Leonard Cohen’s New “Old Ideas”

The bard’s “Show Me the Place” song on his new album titled Old Ideas lent an ethereal air to a prosaic errand this morning. The hound I brought home over ten years ago, starving, cut up, and covered in ticks is aging fast, and we’re trying to keep him comfortable. But about a week ago, he sported a sizable mass on his neck and started walking even more awkwardly (3 mincing steps with his forelegs for every two lanky ones with his hind). I’m not keen on putting animals through terror and pain for some hoped-for cure or help long down the road, but there’s a chance we can do some minor things to ease the pup’s way now. So, I dropped him first thing this morn at the vet for tests. Then as I wound my way home in the dull gray of a day promising rain, our local 91.9, WNRN, played this new song.

Holiday Bible Surprises

Some things one might expect to find in the Bible aren’t there at all; while sometimes what we do find is downright surprising. Take Hanukkah, for instance — not there! Ironically, not in the Jewish bible, but it is in the Orthodox Christian bible (in part — 1 Maccabees, if you’re looking). Meanwhile, the Christian Christmas stories don’t all jibe, and they include some surprises of their own.

Tech Stress

I love technology… when it helps me. I do not love tech for tech’s sake. So when things go wrong, I get really stressed out. I have a new computer, the old was running slower and slower and was awfully heavy to tote. But switching to the new required hours and hours under Best Buy’s fluorescent lights hostage to the people I’d paid to make the transfer of data. It was agonizing and turned out to be impossible for them to handle precisely the things that I knew I’d have trouble managing. So it was a bust of a lot of time. I like my new computer (faster, lighter), but it turns out that there’s some internal glitch with its wi-fi features. Occasionally I simply cannot get online. The time one spends trouble-shooting these things can end up being a lot more of a work day than work itself; and that makes me a little batty. But what’s to do? One’s hands are tied…

Cherubic Cherubim

 Out of the heaps of snow we’ve been getting lately, someone in my neighborhood has fashioned a great big Cupid in her front yard…or is it a cherub? Shoot, is Cupid himself some kind of cherub? I stood contemplating those questions for a minute or so until my dog started snuffling about at the smooshed remains of a sandwich beginning to emerge from under the packed snow, and I figured it was time to move on.
 Christmas came and went with its cards adorned by chubby-cheeked winged babies. Now it’s Valentine’s Day, and they’re back again. We’re accustomed to calling these charming figures cherubs. But it’s a biblical word, and in the Bible, cherubs are nothing like that.

Upside Down to Right the World

The Christmas story, whatever one does or does not believe, is a story of reversals. It’s a story of tipping things over to set things right. Yet it all seems so familiar that we forget how much it requires wild imagination. The starring actors a poor family, the grand setting a tiny backwater town, heavenly angels speaking only to the sketchy demographic of sheep herders, and at the heart of it: a Jewish bastard (or so it would seem) in the Roman empire whom foreign envoys call “king,” the God of the universe a naked baby. When you let yourself take it all in, well, it seems frighteningly relevant, (again) whatever one believes. I say frightening because no one really wants to embrace the unexpected, question assumptions, and allow that what is isn’t always what should be.Yet it’s time to do just that. I don’t mean to suggest that chaotic anarchy is the answer. Not at all. But a cold hard look at what is love, what is justice, what is our place in the world, adopting a compassion so severe that we have to laugh,… and then to lighten up and change accordingly. Terrifying and exulting. Imagine.