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Good Letters

child blowing dandelion in sunset

This is for Michael Alan Brooks.

The first thing, of course, was the birth.

Not the virginal aspect of it—if anything, having a mother who was barely a teen, armed with nothing but joyful acquiescence about something truly weird, would at least have served to hamper the tendency to overthink everything that plagues us older mothers.[1]

But this particular birth, though. There was nothing about it that wasn’t traumatic, for the principals.  The chaste, custodial, older spouse[2], bewildered about what exactly might have happened to his young betrothed, until the angel appeared to assure him. The couple’s awkward and uncomfortable journey at the behest of the Authorities, ripe and ready for a zillion future Progressive Christian takes on Joseph and Mary as “the original refugees” some two thousand years later.

The untimely delivery in filthy conditions: The former priest at my husband’s Catholic church, Father Kevin Carlin Kennedy, once preached a sermon on distinguishing the “gift” of Christmas from the romantic “wrapping paper” of Christmas. Angels and astrologers notwithstanding, the Mother of God still gave birth in what was basically a barn.

We know, now, that traumatic delivery, and chronic early stress, can alter the trajectory of one’s body and emotions for all the decades after. Perhaps this was even true for the Son of God, himself—the fact that He descended willingly into the messiness of human biochemistry adds a whole other depth to the notion of the Incarnation.

And then at the same time, to have the whole gift and burden of divine consciousness, always scanning the horizon for the weight of Creation’s full knowledge. Even as He was growing up and had only an emerging idea of what was going on.

That’s what my child was likely doing, when she was disinvited for a second year at a particular summer camp recently, for not paying attention. Spinning cartwheels in the corner, laughing uproariously, she was likely just paying attention to other things.

But if Jesus had ADHD, I suspect His would have been the “inattentive” kind: Hyper-focused on elaborating his drash in the Temple, no consciousness of the time involved, it would not have occurred to him that he was three days late for the return journey home, until the moment his frantic parents walked back in the door.

With the letters of the Torah so deeply entwined with His spirit, caught on the trains of His thought, in the shining circle of the teachers of the Word–of course He wouldn’t have any apology for not being where He was supposed to be.

(Mary, the Mother of God, treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart. Perhaps she was one, too. )

Meanwhile, there was the stress of the endless pilgrimage, the ongoing vigilance: The Son of Man had no place to lay His head. What would it mean to be buffeted about, to Egypt and back again, and finally to Nazareth—a place nobody thought anything good could come out of, anyway.

Maybe that’s part of the reason for Our Lord’s protracted adolescence—the underachiever, single, living at home with his mother at thirty and only doing a little carpentry work, when there was so much more he was capable of doing.

His mother had to beg him to do something about the wine at the wedding, after all.

Then after that, He knew that the time was now full, that there would be the next three years of staring down demons, shouting at crowds, and slipping away for silence when the clamoring got too loud.

He would go forward down this hallway, alert and vigilant, guided only by the voice of His Father, picking through the chaos around Him. He wished that the cup would pass away, but He was the only one who could hear the voice, because it was His voice, and His Father’s voice all at once.

It was that very body, the body His mother had borne, that had set Him toward the path He had to finish.

And it is our bodies, that our mothers have borne, that divinized by Him, set our feet toward the path we seek to finish this Lent.

[1] Our lack of faith—or at least mine—might have something to do with this, though, too.

[2] At least in Eastern Orthodox tradition, Joseph is a white-bearded caretaker. No prom-couple earnest Lifeway Nativity scenes here!

Graphic via pixabay.

The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Written by: Caroline Langston

A native of Yazoo City, Mississippi, Caroline Langston is a convert to the Eastern Orthodox Church. She is a widely published writer and essayist, a winner of the Pushcart Prize, and a commentator for NPR’s All Things Considered.

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