Finding the key inside. Wrapping up the Christmas season
The Danish thinker Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) once told a tale of a man rowing out on a lake in the quiet of dusk. The shallow lake lay silent beyond the circles where the oars broke the surface of the water, trickling little droplets of murky water back into the boat. It was then that an oar hit a dark object on the shallow floor of the lake. When the man lifted it out of the water he found himself looking at a little treasure chest. He brushed the water and mud off and tried for some time to open it. When the lid finally gave way he found the key inside.
The Sufi teacher Rumi (1207-1273) tells a similar story about his own journey. Often he felt he was eagerly knocking at a door - still it would not open. Only later did he find he wasknocking at the door from inside.
Both images remind us that part of the human journey is a journey inside, to the murky waters of our own beings where the treasure lies. This time of wrapping up the Christmas season and putting away the decorations and symbols is also an invitation to pause one last time; what has it all to do with my own journey?
What to do with the manger, Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, and now the three kings?
Already as a child I felt a bit reluctant around the holy family and somehow managed to avoid being part of the children's Christmas staging. I was rather drawn to the other version of the Divine birth you can also find in the bible, written in a more poetic language:
“In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God (...)
And the Word became flesh
and dwelled among us. ”
— John 1,1
Those somewhat cryptic but also deeply philosophical lines always captured my imagination. Here the story of Divine birth wasn't already pictured as what became the traditional image of the holy family. Instead, it needed to be unpacked each time again. As we have walked the 12 Days of Christmas together this season it has become a journey inward, a journey of the heart, to the heart, where the DIvine truth lies.
Also the Swiss psychologist C.G. Jung (1875-1961) helps to unwrap a bit of the traditional glitter of the nativity scene and read it from the inside out, as a powerful metaphor of our human journey itself.
Jung says: the goal of each individuation, each becoming-human is God's birth in one self. Therefore the Christmas story moves us because it touches these deep images or "archetypes" we carry in our soul. The trinity of the holy family also reveals the creation forces in our very beings: spirit, soul and body. This way, the characters of the Christmas story can be read as crucial parts of our own being. So I offer you some Jungian thoughts on the story, using perspectives that I have given my own names:
Mary, the soulful
Mary symbolizes our tender side, our empathy and compassion, our creativity and trust of God's goodness. Mary embodies the part of the soul from which our feelings and wisdom spring.
For Jung the soul is somewhat like the embodied spirit, bound to matter but still with "wings of an eagle". Some of you might be reminded to the medieval scholar Hildegard of Bingen (whom Jung has read, too) and her comforting words to the lamenting soul: Do not forget, my daughter, that your father in heaven has given your soul wings with which you can fly above all obstacles. (see my post on Hildegard)
So who is Mary in us? Mary, the soulful, follows her call. She accepts what is promised to her, against all the odds, she makes room for the sacred which starts to grow in her. She not only welcomes but carries the Divine spark until its birth. Following our calling isn't an easy thing. We often have to defy our own doubts, or the well meant advice of others, even common sense. We have to choose the road less traveled, in order to bring to life what lies within us.
Joseph, the mindful
Then there is Joseph, the mindful, who stands for the masculine part of our soul life. His task is to support Mary on her way, not only to stand by her but to father and care for the new life Mary is carrying under her heart. Joseph symbolizes the ability we each have to structure, to foster and facilitate, to believe, and to support what ever wisdom is trying to birth.
Together, Mary and Joseph are like the feminine and masculine part of our soul; Jung names these with Greek: anima and animus. Thinking about Mary and Joseph in us also reveals what is hurt or less developed in our own life. Some might have lacked motherly care, some might have longed all life long for more fatherly support. But here is the invitation: despite the odds, despite the lack or the disappointment we might have experienced in our own life, we can find Mary and Joseph anew in us, and rebuild them into what they ought to be.
The Divine Child, God with us
For Jung, The Divine child symbolizes the "world-soul slumbering in matter." Birthing the holy is the awakening of the deeper self, realizing the "Imago Dei," growing closer into the image of God. Such a living concept of the self understands the self spiritually, as our spiritual ability to reconcile the opposites, as does the Divine child narrative: light and dark, masculine and feminine, soul and body, intellect and intuition, knowledge and faith, awakening and slumber, spirit and flesh, holy and profane.
The stable, just where we are
Realizing our self this way is what reminds us that we are made in the image of God, that the sublime wants to take shelter in us; wants to dwell even in our unkempt and windy stable, nothing perfect, often not even pretty. Always again, the divine birth is happening, against the odds, in us.
Jung is careful to state that understanding the Christmas narrative this way does not take away any of its mystery. In fact, it rather creates "the psychological preconditions" that allow the story of redemption to be meaningful to us. This Divine incarnation only touches us if it makes sense to our uttermost being. Only then can redemption take place. Only then, the Divine child becomes the force who reconciles what seems unreconcilable also in us.
And what about the animals, never missing in the nativity scene? You could read them as your native instincts always nearby, while the shepherds might bring word of a heavenly chorus to confirm the holy birth. And the late-arriving kings from far away offering their gifts - what might they bring?
So here is my hope for you:
May you find,
at the end of this Christmas season
and in the midst of the unfolding of the new year,
some comfort in the thought
that you are God's beloved child
and that the Divine wants to be born in you,
no matter how shabby your stable.
And may Christmas find you, where you are.