When our oldest daughter, Sara, was a little girl of around six, she took ballet. I sometimes drove her to ballet lessons in our old Volkswagen Beetle. Once, as Sara pulled her seat belt and shoulder harness on, it made a slight hissing sound. This prompted her to observe with a giggle, “It sounded like the car passed gas.”*
Being the kind of dad I am, I replied, “I thought it was you.”
“Dad, I don’t do that anymore.”
“Sara, honey, everyone passes gas.”
“Yeah, I guess so. But God doesn’t.”
“No. Probably not. But, I expect Jesus did when he lived on earth.”
“Dad, they didn’t do that back then!”
I assured her that they did and that such has always been part of being human and having bodies. From there I offered a brief lesson on the wonder of God creating and delighting in our bodies. And how God affirmed that delight by becoming a body in the person of Jesus with all the usual things that go with having a body. Including passing gas. The fact that God not only made her body, but took on a body himself meant that her body – all of it – was beautiful and blessed. Even if it was sometimes kind of funny.
God "abhors not the Virgin's womb" we sing in the carol. God abhors not the messiness of mere humanness. As Rodney Clapp observes in Tortured Wonders:
In St. Augustine’s estimation, the human is “an intermediate being,” created and poised between the beasts and the angels. . . Godlike in some regards, animalistic in others, we can find our intermediate being incongruous, mysterious, and self-contradictory. It can appear monstrous as well as wondrous, and sometimes it is not easy to tell which.
It is central to the Christian confession that Jesus Christ entered and embraced our intermediacy. A truly Christian spirituality, then, must not flee from earthiness. It will make some sense of and help us inhabit our in-betweenness. In other words, we are spiritual creations not just in our churches and dining rooms, but in our bathrooms and on our sickbeds. Christian spirituality comprehends not only the sparkle in our eyes but the grime under our fingernails.
A traditional Christian spirituality . . . insists on embracing our physical creatureliness entirely, from head to toe and in between. The spiritual and the scatological meet and, however odd, are not at odds. This spirituality, sweats – and breaks wind. But Christian spirituality also takes the body more seriously than does postmodern spirituality. The body in all its physicality is real. It is not merely a sign or instrument to be manipulated for surface effect. It is a true, honest body inside as well as out. It is a body so true and central to human being that it will, transformed, be borne into eternity.
Similarly, Charles Williams:
The body was holily created, is holily redeemed, and is to be holily raised from the dead. It is in fact, for all our difficulties with it, less fallen, merely in itself, than the soul in which the quality of the will is held to reside; for it was a sin of the will which degraded us.
Selected Writings, p. 117
Among other things, this means that to truly celebrate the miracle of Christmas:
· we cannot treat or think of the body – ours or others' – in all its earthiness as something ugly or repulsive. The Incarnation affirms the fundamental goodness of being human with all our vulnerability and awkwardness. There is no human body, however unusual, and no aspect of authentic human experience, however mundane, that is not blessed and honored by the divine enfleshment.
· we cannot hope to fully engage the divine while ignoring our embodied neighbors. This is true in general. It is also true in worship. Christian worship is an embodied, full-sensory affair involving the embodied members of the body of Christ gathered together.
· we cannot neglect the bodily needs of our neighbors.
· we cannot pretend that hurting another body is ever other than sacrilege.
· we cannot pray for someone without "putting skin on our prayers" by doing what we can do to tend to the need ourselves in the name of Christ in whose name we pray.
A good Christian axiom, taking the Incarnation seriously, might be: “Don’t try to be more spiritual than God.” It is an axiom worth remembering as we celebrate the Feast of the Incarnation. Merry Christmas.