At the Annunciation, in a room in Nazareth, the fresh innocence of Eve is recapitulated, but in a new configuration. This is the nature of creation: that all things general, to become real, must become particular. It should therefore not come as a surprise that God Himself should also take particular flesh from a particular girl on a particular morning in March.
Writing poetry makes one aware of words—how does the rhythm implicate and replicate emotion? How does that rhyming couplet unlock the “Aha!” at the end of a sonnet? How does finding the right metaphor or rhyme also create a new connection of meaning between words and images you had not otherwise connected? Writing poetry is a linking of concept, images, emotion, and ideas in a new synthesis, and like all creative enterprises, gives birth to something new and throws the babe out into the world.
It occurs to me, therefore, that writing poetry is also like the Incarnation. At the Annunciation, God makes new connections which unlock an older unity in a fresh synthesis. Here in a room in Nazareth the fresh innocence of Eve is recapitulated, but in a new configuration. Here is the second Adam, but born of the woman’s flesh, whereas the first Adam donated his flesh to produce the first Eve. Here another choice is offered and a new beginning made. Here, God—who is beyond time and created time—steps into the river of time.
This particularity is the scandal of Christianity. The pantheists, panentheists, pagans, and animists have their immanent God, and the Buddhists, Muslims and Deists their transcendent God, but the Hebrews’ God is transcendent yet walks with them in the garden in the cool of the day. He calls them to a pilgrimage to a promised land, reveals his name from a burning bush, gives the law, calls the child, anoints the king, and speaks to the prophet in a still, small voice.
The God you and I would invent would not interact with particular people in particular places at particular times in history. He remains safely on the other side of the clouds or else he oozes through the created world as the amorphous Spiritus Mundi or he cavorts like the demi-gods of innumerable pagan pantheons.
But the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is both transcendent and immanent—both “out there” and “in here.” He who is immutable and inscrutable steps into history and is suddenly changeable and embraceable. Furthermore, this scandal of particularity demands further ramifications.
If the Divine Creator took particular flesh from a particular girl in a particular Galilean hamlet on a particular day in the reign of a particular emperor and died thirty years later on a particular Friday afternoon on a particular cross having been tortured by a particular flagellum wielded by a particular soldier and rose from a particular tomb of a particular rich man on the third day… then all the rest of this religion must also be particular.
Is the scandal of particularity really such a scandal? Must not all things, if they are real move from the ideal to the concrete? Mustn’t all things, if they are to be real, move from the theoretical to the particular? This music running through Chopin’s head must be recorded with a particular pen on particular paper and then played by particular fingers on a particular keyboard—the tones created by particular hammers on particular strings to create particular sound waves heard by particular ears and registered in particular brains.
This is the nature of creation: that all things general, to become real, must become particular. It should therefore not come as a surprise or a scandal that God Himself—who is after all the source of all reality—should also take particular flesh from a particular girl on a particular morning in March.
This particularity is also why Christianity must be dogmatic. To be real the faith must be specified, and this is also why Christianity must be sacramental, and this is why the Catholic Church is more than a human institution—because the Body of Christ must continue to be real and particular in every age and in every place. Where is the Body of Christ? It is not simply “all believers everywhere known to God alone.” It is identifiable in that church over there, in that priest validly ordained and in that sacrament he celebrates.
This is the true glory of the Christmas season: that God gets his hands dirty. He takes on human flesh and steps into the mess of human history. As Henry Vaughn has written, “That here in dust and dirt, O here, the lilies of his love appear.”
And while we are speaking of particularity and poetry—of flesh and blood and the mystery of the incarnation—here is a poem of mine on the subject that I hope you will read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest.
Here in a bright alchemy, history
collides and combines with eternal things.
The mundane is infused with mystery,
and the dust and mud and blood have wings.
Here every moment of time is pregnant
with meaning, every tick of the clock fecund
with potential, and every tock significant—
eternity bulging in every second.
And so in this one afternoon in Spring
as the light infuses the golden stone,
the girl startled looks up from her weaving,
and gasps in fear. She thought she was alone.
But another being, as high and clear
as the cosmos hovers there. All awhirl,
the spirit spirals down from another sphere
to magnify with light the little girl.
Here the seen and unseen began to dance.
The timeless took the time to enter time.
Here all things gained a new significance,
and the divine and human began to rhyme.
Here flight was grounded—here the spiritual
and the physical began to enmesh.
And here omnipotence began to wrestle
with the bloody reality of human flesh.
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The featured image is courtesy of Pixabay.