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December 21st, 2011

kassia: (syriac)
Wednesday, December 21st, 2011 05:18 pm
For many folks, the idea of a virgin birth (and after, remaining
virgin!) is very hard to understand. It is not the normal way of
things. All we understand about biology does not permit it – it is so
incredible that the virgin birth is the highest exhibit in the mind of
those who assert that adhering the Christian faith requires
disbelieving plain facts that are evident to everyone. The pop
atheists of the current day don’t like this at all. I don’t really
like it myself. I believe in the scientific method, and that humans
can have a common understanding of reality. So this tenet of our faith
requires some careful consideration for me on what kind of God we
believe in.
When many of the “new atheists” talk about disbelieving in God, they
disbelieve in a very specific kind of God: one that is either
worthless or cruel. The key point in their arguments is this: if God
were all-powerful and kind, we would not suffer. Since we do, God is
either weak or mean, and the notion of God as weak is unthinkable. If
God were weak, why would we worship?
We have in the nativity an even bigger paradox than that of the virgin
pregnancy, one that is often overlooked but features prominently in
Orthodox hymns. The crazy thing about the gestation of Christ is that
a girl, a human person, holds God inside her body, and it is not so
overwhelming that it kills her. What kind of God could this be? It’s
sort of a very small God, a tiny, single-cell God, that splits into a
fetus, inside a womb, and is born an utterly dependent human, the
weakest kind of human on the planet. Cell by cell Divinity divides, a
fetal Ancient. Then, eventually, God is born, and screams in shock at
his first breath.
So, we have a weak God. A God who comes into the world completely
powerless. A God who screams and nurses and can’t control his bowels.
A God that Needs -- a God that needs, in particular, a mother. And,
because all our feasts work together in unity, we know that later in
the story, we have a God who suffers. What kind of God is this, and
what does it tell us about suffering, and about power?
One thing it says to me, that helps me make sense of why we suffer, is
that being in a position to heal another’s suffering is a great gift.
It is a privilege and an honor for the Theotokos to take care of God,
to be able to take care of God! Perhaps it is so good to help one
another, that it is worthwhile for us to suffer just to give one
another that opportunity. So when we ask, “why is this happening to
me?”, an answer could be “so that someone can have the gift of helping
me, and that I can have the gift of accepting that help”. Because the
gift of Christmas is God coming into the world in need of help,
because This is how we show love – we take care of each other when we
are suffering, we provide for each other when we lack for something,
when we Need.
Another thing, and this is even harder for me to work with in a
kyriarchal world, where power is supposed to convey safety and freedom
from suffering and all kinds of good and pleasant implications, is
that power is not worth having. Power is not as important as love. We
worship a God that chooses love, and comes into the world weak as a
baby. All the things we value and think we will have, if we can just
get enough power (in particular, money, which is how we, in our
capitalist society, get power), God rejects, in favor of love. It’s a
different kind of safety: we are safe not because we have enough power
that others are afraid to hurt us, but because, if we have love, when
we hurt, we will take care of each other, and it will be ok. It’s a
different kind of freedom: we are free, not because we have enough
power to do what we want without consequence, but because we don’t
have to be afraid of getting hurt, because, if we have love, we will
take care of each other, and it will be ok.
The idea that power is not worth having, that love is more important,
that suffering doesn’t need to be avoided, this is even crazier than
the oxymoron of a virgin birth. This is the revolution of our faith,
and it is necessarily dangerous to those who have power, to those who
have placed their trust in power. And I ask you, as I challenge
myself, to dare to claim this mystery, to carry love for each other
through the darkness of winter and into the coming year, and to see
all the pain and sadness and suffering that life brings as
opportunities to show each other that love, and to remember our God,
who chooses to be weak, to show us love.