Thursday, 24 December 2020

Our Poverty Implies God's Fullness.

We are incomplete. As humans. It is our nature.

We see this clearly, as the poet says:

On the Mystery of the Incarnation 

It's when we face for a moment
the worst our kind can do, and shudder to know
the taint in our own selves, that awe
cracks the mind's shell and enters the heart:

not to a flower, not to a dolphin,
to no innocent form
but to this creature vainly sure
it and no other is god-like, God
(out of compassion for our ugly
failure to evolve) entrusts,
as guest, as brother,
the Word.      (Denise Levertov)

There is a 'taint' in our own selves. The poet recalls for us the terrible things we humans do to each other, from truly horrific violence to all kinds of mundane emotional cruelty. But, she says, this incompletion is the way in which our hearts and minds can be transformed, converted. (“…that awe cracks the mind’s shell and enters the heart…”)

There is plenty more evidence for this lack in us, this incompleteness. Not just incorrigible human failure like ethnic violence, family and generational violence, but also the more mundane distress we have all felt in our families of origin, in our own families. Parents see themselves in their children, good and not so desirable, and wonder how the not-so-good happened despite our best efforts! It’s common. 

Utopianism is further evidence, if it is needed. We are currently in the power of all sorts of extreme utopianisms. Utopianism is a kind of denial of our incompleteness. A kind of ‘she doth protest too much’, an over-insistence to cover the fear, to protest against, and to reject of the lack in us.

Our tendency to monument building is another sign of this incompleteness. We don’t last, We are like the grass of the field, as scripture says. So, let’s build a monument to ourselves, our family, our culture. Nothing necessarily wrong with monument building, it’s just that it sometimes can be, once again, a protest, against our evanescence: we age, we fade, we disappear.

Or again, the self-help industry. It’s good, why not try to help yourself? But, again, it is an acknowledgement of our incompleteness, there is more to us than what we are now. So we try all sorts of methods to change and grow, all kinds of methods, philosophies, and irrationalities.

We are told to embrace honestly, or at least, to accept this incompleteness in the myriad ways it shows itself. To change what needs to be changed, to grow, to accept.. Of course.

But there is something missing in that account. The Christian account, while accepting what I have just said, thinks there is something more. It’s not just to accept and or change, as good as these are. It is to acknowledge our poverty, our spiritual poverty. The incompleteness doesn't mean that we just have to learn new methods of self-enquiry or a helpful technique to grow psychologically.  We are poor, but to acknowledge this is to acknowledge God’s loving fullness waiting to be poured into our hearts. Christianity doesn’t say we are poor; it says God is rich and wishes to share God’s richness with us in our poverty. We are made incomplete to be filled by God’s Spirit, to take us to a new depth of loving that we ourselves cannot bring about. And this fullness doesn’t just complete us, it brings healing. The very signs of our incompleteness can be transformed and healed in God’s fullness. Anger, hate, malice, fear, anxiety, violence and revenge, alienation and the fear of death, all can be healed and we can be taken where we were made to go.

This is Christmas. God comes as a human being, the beginning of a new humanity filled by God’s Spirit. The weak, helpless baby a sign of God’s desire to stoop down to us and take us to where God is. Not just the birth, of course. There is to come Jesus’ ministry, rejection, crucifixion, and resurrection. But God has done in Jesus what we are made not to be able to do on our own: to be a complete humanity, in the image of that same Christ. 

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