Christmas with meat. Not the usual pork or poultry type -ham, turkey – but human meat: flesh, blood, bone, muscle and sinew. (What a great word – “sinew”. It has the taint of “sin”, but the power of “new.”) One of the great truths we celebrate at Christmas is that by coming to this earth, being birthed on a barn floor in Palistine 2,000 years ago, with all the muck and mess that implies, Christ has redeemed this world and everything in it. Though we often don’t see it, the stuff of this world, literally – from diamonds to dumpsters – has worth and value. Even when Christ comes again, it will not be to vaporize us into some vast ethernet in the sky; it will be to re-new this earth, it’s oceans and coastlines, it’s mountains and cities, the work of our hands and the air that we breathe. Consequently, our goal in life is not to escape this world, to try to live unsullied by exposure to its substance, but to embrace all that is good and glorious and beautiful in it and to work for the full redemption of all persons and things.
Those who most often help me to see this truth and whet my appetite to experience life in greater depth and breadth are usually poets. I find that gifted poets don’t encourage me to “rise above it all” but, rather, to “dig into it” and discover, experience, what lies within. And I find this gift of poets particularly meaningful in conjunction with the celebration of Christmas. As John tells the story, at Christmas we celebrate this mind-boggling truth that, “The Word [of God, the Thought, Mind] became flesh and dwelt among us.” Or, as Eugene Peterson translates it in the often quite poetic, Message, “The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.” The birth of Jesus forever embedded our faith in earth, in dirt, in mud and carbon and tissue and fiber and muscle and meat. Christmas con carne. The In-carne-ation. Poets help me see this incarnation of God in the world.
And so, over the next week or so, leading up to, maybe even a bit beyond, Christmas, I would like to share some of those specific poems that bring all of this together for me. In hopes that maybe someone else might also find meaning, experience the Incarnation, in an even greater way this year. The first poem I’ll share is particularly appropriate for the main focus of this particular blog. The other ones, I promise, will be just as “earthy” but not quite as “visceral”.
God tries on skin
Once, he stretched skin over spirit
like a rubber glove,
aligning trinity with bone,
twining through veins
until deity square-knotted flesh.
In a whirlwind spin
he shrank to the size of a zygote,
bobbed in a womb warm as Galilee’s shore.
In the dark,
he brushed up on Hebrew,
practiced his crawl.
After months scrunched in a circle,
he burst through his cellophane sac,
bloodied the teen legs
spread on the straw.
In his first breath
he inhaled the sweat
of Romans casting lots,
sniffed the wine mixed with gall.
Marjorie Maddox Phifer