A little over a week ago the Center for Christogenesis completed its third annual conference. This year we had over three hundred and fifty participants from around the world, including Canada, Australia, Japan, Europe and Africa. It was an incredible productivity of energy brought together by the Center’s team, led by the polymath executive director of the Center, Greg Hansell, and his colleagues Isabelle Robinson and Eric Gibson. These three persons coordinated the computer technology which made possible a virtual presence of speakers and participants in what seemed like a flawless flow.
The plenary speakers were dynamic and engaging, from Barbara Brown Taylor to Catherine Keller and Cynthia Bourgeault, and the engaging Rabbi Rami Shapiro. John Haught received the Center’s award this year and offered an insightful talk on “God after Einstein”.
The breakout session leaders were equally engaging and a huge thanks goes out to Rhonda Miska, Alison McCreary, Margaret Mell, Andrew Del Rossi and L.J. Milone for providing thoughtful and engaging workshops that enabled the conference material to be processed, digested and expanded.
I myself ran into a paroxysmal coughing spell at the beginning of my talk, due either to the cat hair piling up on my desk or the orange I ate right before I had to speak—or a combination of cat hair and orange. In any event, I was getting sympathy notes in the chat box and someone kindly sent a box of Halls cough drops from Costco shortly after the conference (Thank you!) Greg asked if I wanted to rerecord my talk so that it would fit nicely with the other talks, but I have decided against it for the simple reason that life is not without its paroxysms. Of course, we like when everything is running smoothly but the real challenge of life today is finding meaning amidst the chaos of conflicting experiences. I have reflected on my coughing fit and have transformed it into a theological parable which I offer here.
If we seek a nice, neat God who will be there up ahead waiting for us when we arrive (do we ever arrive?) we are going to be deeply disappointed, for God is here in the turbulent messiness of our lives. I am beginning to think that God is more present when things are not right than when the stars are aligned. We have made God into the geometer’s model of perfection, but life reveals God more like an uncontrollable coughing fit than a perfect mathematician. After all, consider the life of Jesus born in a backyard barn to an unwed mother in the midst of a heatwave (Jesus was likely born in March not December!) How do we know that Jesus did not have a coughing spell at the last supper? With an impending death and a traitor among his friends, do we really think that this dinner went smoothly?
We have constructed a triumphant Christian story but nature, including human life, reveals a very different kind of God, one who stumbles through the cracks and crevices of life without falling under the weight of despair. It might be time to stop looking for a perfect God and awaken to an imperfect God, a God who is still becoming God precisely because God emptied Godself into human form (Phi. 2:6). God succumbed to the limits of matter so that matter could discover its potential in God. What does a messy God look like, an incomplete God? I think such a God looks like us humans who keep trying to overcome our failings and deficiencies.
The Christmas story is not about the imperfect becoming perfect but about the fidelity of divine love who accepts or perhaps rejoices in the incompleteness of created reality. The Christ event begins with God entering an imperfect world of chaotic matter—not to become perfect but to become love. Love does not seek to make the imperfect perfect but to make the isolated and alone wanted and celebrated; to bring what is separate and partial into wholeness and communion. God is unfailing and unconditional love who accepts our imperfections and incompleteness with joy. Entering into our imperfect lives and finding there the joyous embrace of God’s love opens us to the creative beauty of life in all its chaos. Resting on God’s love, we can weave our lives and our world into a pattern of peace.
So this Christmas, do not worry if you start coughing or sneezing while opening your presents; do not worry if the meal does not turn out as expected; rather, pause and be attentive to the breath of life within you and among you, for this breadth is the Spirit of love, the Spirit of God who brings light out of darkness, intelligence out of chaos, joy out of sorrow, hope out of despair. This God is perfectly at home in the cracks and crevices of our lives—after all—imperfection and incompleteness gives God something to do. God has to keep trying to become God in us and finds a myriad of ways to get our attention—but once we turn toward the divine light, all the disappointments and imperfections fade away. This is the Good News of Jesus Christ—the Light has come into the world and this light is the life of the world (Jn 3:19).
May we let go and let God be God this Christmas. May we awaken to the gift so generously given to us—the very breadth of our lives. May we accept this gift in humility and recognize our fragile, wobbly lives are filled with grace. For every single person—in the beauty of their skin color, their language, their religion, their gender—every single person is loved into being by God. And if we could simply strive to return love for love each day—the love of mercy, the love of compassion, the love of forgiveness, the love of peace—the blessings of God would radiate like the brilliance of the sun rising up over the ocean of life.
So this Christmas, may our faith in the power of God’s love be renewed, for love alone can turn our sorrow into joy, our despair into hope, our fear into hope. Yes, Christ is born but the amazing wonder of Christmas is that Christ is born in you.
Wishing you Christmas blessings and peace,
Image: Detail, Starry night, Edvard Munch, 1922