Fair warning: this one’s not about fat and not about feminism (mostly). It’s about religion–mine, that is. I know it’s not why you follow me, and I mostly skirt the importance of my faith in constructing and directing the whole discourse of this blog, but now and again things just sort of simmer insistently, especially in the big seasons–Christmas and Easter.
And, of course, it’s Advent (or Almost-Christmas for you not-so-Adventy folks, Christian and non-). It’s a season of penance (though not in the super-serious way of Lent–this is more of a spiritual house-cleaning kind of thing in proper preparation for the Arrival of God in human form–a big enough deal to merit vacuuming both the house and the soul and spiffing them up a bit). It’s got its own hymns and rituals and it’s my favorite season of the church year.
So I’m having a little trouble figuring out why the Pope felt the need to get all grinchy and make a papal pronouncement that some 4th c. monk got the date of Jesus’s b-day wrong (really, what decently educated Christian didn’t already know that?), and that there were No Animals At The Manger. How he thinks he can verify that one, I do not know. But, hey, he used to run the Inquisition, and they have ways of gathering info…
But really, what I want to write about is how bloody sick I am of hearing about the War on Christmas. First, there isn’t one. Never was–the occasional constitutional dust-up from the ACLU aside, no one anywhere is suggesting that we not celebrate the incarnation of God into fragile, fault-ridden, messy human flesh–the extraordinary act of a Creator so in love with her Creation that she chose to become it, fully. Who wants to say we can’t celebrate? Just because the constitution suggests that governments not overtly insist on the validity of the religious aspects of any holiday (i.e. Nativity scenes on the courthouse lawn) does not mean anyone is making war on my faith. That’s patently false logic.
There is no war on Christmas. And furthermore, I feel compelled to suggest to all those fundamentalist Christians out there that Jesus doesn’t need you to defend Him. I believe He can handle Himself just fine without any help from you, and has plenty to do without you hanging on to His feet and trying to make him sit and watch Fox Notnews with you. I really do believe that what he wants us to do is the stuff he told us to do: care for the poor and the sick and the lonely, pay less attention to the small gods of the world, love each other radically, and treat everyone (even the Samaritans and the Romans who don’t agree with us that he’s God) with the same respect and generosity He did. Be the shining lights on the rocky hill. Be His hands. Quit worrying. Stop abusing women and children.
And there is nothing ungodly about wishing other folks Season’s Greetings. It’s midwinter. Humans have always felt the need to mark the turn of the year from increasing darkness to increasing light. Whatever 4th c. monk decided to re-locate the birth of Christ in the middle of one of the most ancient celebratory seasons humans have was maybe a bit of religious imperialist, but I rather think he had a heck of a handle on the value of metaphor. But just because we layered our celebration of the birth of Light on top of other folks’ celebrations of the return of light or the miraculous preservation of light doesn’t mean we get to act like we’re the only celebration out there. More and more the practice of public courtesy seems like an act of radical love, and there is a lot to be said for any season that enshrines and encourages general expressions of active good will. Wishing everyone a “Merry Christmas” is rude. “Happy Holidays” is just a recognition that these are holy days–that’s the origin of the word–and spreads light and peace without suggesting that light and peace are only available to people who go to your church. It’s graceful. Grace-full. “Season’s Greetings” is even more general and suggests that you hope people have more than one nice day. I seriously doubt Jesus has a problem with that. Or that He needs creches in front of the town hall in order to remember who He is. I’m pretty sure that He doesn’t need us to be bitchy and pissed off and whiny because we don’t get to have everything be exactly how our Sunday school teacher or undereducated pastor says it’s supposed to be. I’m pretty sure He thinks we have too much important stuff to be doing to waste energy on “keeping Christ in Christmas.” He is Christmas. So relax, please, because you’re making me almost as grumpy as the phrase “fiscal cliff” is making me right now.
And, while I’m on the subject, this Christmas thing does actually have a lot to do with this blog’s normal subject matter. It all starts with the idea/ fact of Incarnation–that is to say that we are all members of The Body, and therefore each of us is sacred in our bodies. If our bodies are not inherently sacred, then the whole of the New Testament narrative has no meaning, because (and, yes, I am skimming 2,000 years of bottomlessly complex theology here–so suck it up, Acquinas) there would be no meaning to God having chosen to be one–a body, I mean. Incarnation doesn’t mean that God inhabited a human body–like a possession or a skinwalker–it means that God was one–colic, puberty, heartburn, hunger, and agony all included. So these bodies we are, they’re holy. Now the standard Puritan take on that is to suggest that, therefore, we must make temples of them and tend them like topiary hedges, but that’s based on the pauline notion that the body is the seat and driver of sin. Which, in turn leads to all that weird stuff about disciplined bodies being reflections of carefully nurtured souls. Which is bosh. Or, there’s the other dominant take, which is that if all human physical life is sacred, then it cannot be taken, ever, under any circumstances. This one gets really hung up on definitions of “life” and can lead to all sorts of looney extremism, but it can also lead to some beautiful moral consistency, as with the Quakers, some of the time. My take, though, is that it means that every body that is viably alive is sacred at every moment of its existence, and this means that every body deserves to have its boundaries respected, its needs met, and its space preserved. Whether these bodies are high-function or problematic doesn’t change their sacredness. This is a hard standard for a lot of reasons, and much more complicated than it appears on the surface. But there it is. I understand that there is some sort of separateness between the body and the spirit/soul/being, and I believe that one of them stops at some point and the other goes on. But I do not believe that the body is some sort of cosmic briefcase into which we temporarily dump the manuscripts of our souls. And I do not find these two somewhat contradictory propositions contradictory. but remember that I also believe in a single God who is also a triptych, so there you go.
I’ve been trying to work out the differences between the sacredness of bodies and my most-likely-culturally-embedded opinions about function and beauty and health. They’re related, sort of, but not entirely. A profoundly dysfunctional body is still sacred, as is an aesthetically problematic one. Which is to affirm, I guess, that physical appearance and function are not, in fact, any sort of determiners for human rights or human existence or human value, which is, in turn, something of an extension of the whole don’t-judge-a-book-by-its-cover thing, especially since it’s based on the assertion that the book and the cover are one and the same in this life.
And yet, I often have the feeling that this is not my “real” body–that my authentic body would, indeed, be smaller (though not small) and stronger and more dynamic/competent.
It’s a comfort to know that this mind/spirit/body question has plagued better minds than mine for thousands of years. Makes me feel a little less dumb.
Merry Christmas! Happy Hannukah! Season’s Greetings! Blessed Solstice! And happy everything-else-that-gets-celebrated as the year turns its corner and heads back toward the light, or the Light, or the Lights. May your hearts be light.