Making room for mystery

Over four decades ago, my partner, Holly, worked as an aide in a small town hospital on the west side of the province, about an hour from the Alberta border. It seems that being a farm wife and mother to three blond cherubs wasn’t enough. I recall a story that she brought home.

A young girl, seemingly fourteen, had appeared with a friend one evening, an Alberta girl, the staff learned. She was in labour. That night she birthed a son. In the morning, that friend picked her up and they disappeared again, leaving the wee one for Social Services to claim. The impression was that no one in that girl’s home life was aware of this pregnancy or birth.

Though I have no memory of the time of year this story occurred, in the passing decades it has been added to my repertoire of stories to remember and rethink in the Christmas season. It’s one of those incidents that invite me to hold the Christmas story alongside, and ask questions, explore the mystery of holy birth.

I’m picturing a mother, forever changed. I’m picturing a mother, like Mary, feeling very much the stigma of a birth that falls outside the norm of how child birth was understood to happen. I’m wondering if there was a role for angels, announcing, celebrating, telling confused folks, “Don’t be afraid.”

I’m asking myself how the image of gift giving fit into that holy story. I’m curious whether the image of a star led anyone into that both happy and sad event. I read the words describing Mary, “treasuring all these things and pondering them in her heart,” and I think of that surreptitious young mother, was there any learnings to ponder, to treasure. Was she ever able to share the story of “the sword that pierced her own soul?” Was there any part of her own role that contained joy?

The story of Jesus’ birth has become every story of hope, of joy, of being not afraid. It has become a reminder that every one of those important stories involve complications, messy moments, hard details, all of which need to be acknowledged and processed as we distill them to find the gift at the center. The story of the birth in the barn puts me on notice to pay attention to finding life changing beauty when and where we least expect it.

Recently, I’ve encountered, in more than one place, the observation that the opposite of “faith” is not “evil” or “sin” or “lostness,” but rather “certainty.” Certainty is at the opposite end of the spectrum to faith.

That meshes with my experience of life.

A Bible sits before me as I write, to remind myself of those pieces of the Mary story in Luke 2. The book has almost 2000 thin pages. I find the Bible is most useful when I use it mystically, which as different from seeing each story, each word, as offering unchallengeable truth. Whose truth? Certainty suggests it’s the one who wields the most power.

If the Bible is used to remind us of our own holiness, if it opens our eyes to the holiness of the entire creation around us, then it is worthy of capital letters, as in Holy Bible. When it is used to measure, to pronounce, to justify, to divide, then it is just another book, whose thin pages may just as effectively be used as paper for smokes.

The story of Christmas is that God became flesh, became human. It’s a story that stretches both back and forward beyond our vision. That’s a story that calls us to re-examine the strong memories and dreams of our lives, to re-examine them around the concept of “God among us.” Who is being born to us this season? What can be learned about claiming our heritage as “manger born?”

Can we make room for that mystery? Can we reclaim that age old practice of gift giving as holy celebration, as signs that point to our own awe and wonder?

Because of Christmas, it’s good to be human. Because of Christmas, it’s good to reach out to touch our lives, our stories, all lives and stories, with new and gentle fingertips. Because of Christmas, God waits to be touched.