catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 6, Num 24 :: 2007.12.28 — 2008.01.11


Closeness and incarnation

Now would be a good time to take a deep breath and settle into yourself.

  • Who did you most look forward to seeing at Christmas?
  • Who did you least look forward to seeing?

What occasions bring the members of your family together?

  • Marriage?        
  • Death?   
  • Graduations?
  • Anniversaries?
  • Births?

Ah yes, the birth of a new baby. And so it seems utterly appropriate that the birth of the Christ child should bring our families together. Because Jesus comes not just as a cute little baby in someone else’s stroller—but to us. Jesus is birthed in us when we stand as empty of virgins in front of God, free from our own illusions and our need to rule the universe, and we ask to be filled with life. Jesus doesn’t grow up in someone else’s home in a distant land, but in us as we grow in love and compassion and understanding.

Jesus comes utterly dependent on us—to hold and to cherish him as a precious gift. Jesus needs us to thrive, and in the great wisdom of the universe it is through Jesus’ presence in us that we find we too can thrive. Dependent upon each other in the most amazing relationship you could ever dream. Utterly exposed to each other. The most intimate relationship you can imagine. 

The intimacy we all long for—in which we are entirely ourselves and we still find we are loved and accepted. 

We are all caught up in the midst of many relationships and they all have very different levels of intimacy. The first relationship we experience and the one that most shapes our future relationships, including our relationship to our God and even to our self, is our family of origin.

Take a minute to think about the characteristics of the relationships you had with each member of your immediate family and to your “family” as a whole.

Dar Williams sings a song called “Your Fire Your Soul.” It’s about going home for the holidays. The lyrics go like this:

Button up that shirt you're supposed to wear.
Don't forget your airline ticket or to brush your hair,
Show that family that you care.
But could you wear something that celebrates
Everything you love, and maybe what your family hates.
'Cause that might be what it takes.

It's your fire, it's your soul, you shouldn't have to go.
It's your fire, it's your soul, you shouldn't have to go.

First thing they'll say's take off your shoes,
And they'll say they want your story, but they get confused,
By all those words you use.
A year ago your car went off a cliff,
And you saw an angel in midair who said you'd live.
Well, that's a story you can give.

It's your fire, it's your soul, you shouldn't have to go.
Your fire, your soul, you shouldn't have to go.

And they'll say, "You're family, you belong to us.
You can stay at home and have our love and trust,
But any day now one of us could die,
and if we make you suffer don't you want to find out why,
'Cause we love to watch you try,
With your fire, your soul, your soul.
It's your fire, it's your fire, it's your fire.”

Then you'll fly home and get the flu,
And you'll keep staring at the ground, you always do,
When they get their time with you.
You are not a punching bag, my dear,
I think your darkest day should have some light this year,
I think you should stay right here.

It's your fire, it's your soul, you shouldn't have to go.
It's your fire, it's your soul, you shouldn't have to go.

Can you identify with either person in this couple as they struggle with returning home for the holidays?

You know those great motivational posters with beautiful pictures and inspiring quotes? I saw one this weekend that said:

Dysfunction: The only consistent feature in all of your dissatisfying relationships is you.

Some of our relationships form by happenstance, others by intent. Intentional relationships happen because you choose to be present with other people. Presumably you enter into intentional relationships because you long for a community of intimacy.

Let’s take a minute, though, to define intimacy. I’m going to use Harriet Lerner’s definition from The Dance of Intimacy. “An intimate relationship is one in which neither party silences, sacrifices or betrays the self and each party expresses strength and vulnerability, weakness and competence in a balanced way.”  

Often we confuse Closeness with Sameness. We begin to think “intimacy” is about agreement. It’s hard to “feel” intimate with someone we disagree with. But the fact is we ARE different. An intimate relationship requires us to understand that we all see things differently, we all manage anxiety differently, and we all navigate relationships differently.

  • When you disagree with the general tone a conversation is taking, how do you react? 
  • When you agree with the general tone a conversation is taking, how do you react? 
  • When is it difficult to be yourself?
  • Do you ever feel you have to conform to the expectations of others to be loved or accepted? 
  • Can you assert yourself when there is a cost for doing so?

While caring for self is critical for an intimate relationship, so is caring for others. We could reread the definition this way: “An intimate relationship is one in which neither party silences, sacrifices or betrays the other and each party accepts the balance of strength and vulnerability, weakness and competence of the other.”

  • When is it difficult for you to let others be who they are?  
  • Can you allow others to assert themselves even when there is a cost to you for their doing so?

Reflect on the characteristics of your relationships in whatever faith community you experience.

  • Do you see these same patterns playing out? How is it the same and how is it different?
  • How might you deepen your sense of intimacy in that setting and use it to heal and strengthen your other relationships?
  • How does our experience of Jesus within help us to grow in intimacy with others?

Jesus came and claimed his own identity in the midst of hostile and unfriendly forces. He never compromised who he was. Yet he did that with humility and compassion for others.

That same Jesus lives in us today and every day of the year. That Jesus knows us intimately and loves us unconditionally. That is the promise and the hope of this day. That we are loved and accepted beyond what we would have ever dared dream for our self. No matter what our family or any of our other relationships may lead us to believe, we are loveable and worthy and beautiful and accepted just as we are.

At the same time, we are called to take the same love that is poured out into us, and pour it out into others. We are called by the birth of a baby into relationship, into the great human family, needy and needed. Knowing that it is only in relationship that we can ultimately find the healing and wholeness we seek.

We are invited for the sake of others to claim our identity just as Jesus claimed, that we are all the true sons and daughters of God.

When we know that, when we believe that, when we really claim that for ourselves, it has to make a difference in our lives—and the lives around us. For Christmas is not just a time to intentionally receive the gift of Christ, but a powerful reminder for us that we are also the gift of Christ for others.

In his song, “Rebel Jesus,” Jackson Brown challenges us to take such a responsibility seriously. Here are the lyrics to this song:

All the streets are filled with laughter and light
And the music of the season
And the merchants’ windows are all bright
With the faces of the children
And the families hurrying to their homes
As the sky darkens and freezes
They’ll be gathering around the hearths and tales
Giving thanks for all God’s graces
And the birth of the rebel Jesus

Well they call him by the prince of peace
And they call him by the savior
And they pray to him upon the seas
And in every bold endeavor
As they fill his churches with their pride and gold
And their faith in him increases
But they’ve turned the nature that I worshipped in
From a temple to a robber’s den
In the words of the rebel Jesus

We guard our world with locks and guns
And we guard our fine possessions
And once a year when christmas comes
We give to our relations
And perhaps we give a little to the poor
If the generosity should seize us
But if any one of us should interfere
In the business of why they are poor
They get the same as the rebel Jesus

But please forgive me if I seem
To take the tone of judgment
For I’ve no wish to come between
This day and your enjoyment
In this life of hardship and of earthly toil
We have need for anything that frees us
So I bid you pleasure
And I bid you cheer
From a heathen and a pagan
On the side of the rebel Jesus.

How will the birth of Jesus in you make a difference in your life and in your relationships this year?

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