Robert Mitchell has a good post about the hermetic mysteries of Christmas. I’d forgotten his detail about St Francis of Assisi inventing the concept of the Nativity scene or crèche, but it turns out to have been a brilliant idea. He’s quite right about the nature of Christian Mysteries, though — there are a lot of them. Easter pageants, nativity scenes, the Mass or Eucharist, baptism, ordination, and more. For the last few days, I’ve been listening to a good many of them in the form of Christmas carols, wassail songs, Gregorian plainsong, chants, and more, celebrating Word Made Flesh, spirit entering into matter, and light coming into the world. Of course the shepherds are afraid.
One of the things that I feel called to do, as a Maker and … other things… is make a little mystery for people from time to time. My mother is expecting eight dinner guests tomorrow. And so I’ve made nine origami boxes in the shape of stars, as containers or plates for tomorrow night’s dessert. They’ll contain a small variety of treats — a few cookies, a bit of chocolate, a candy or two.
These boxes were a lot of trouble to make. This sort of paper doesn’t fold easily, and once folded it wants to crumple in on itself in horrifying ways. Their very fragility speaks to the vulnerability that Jason talks about in that link about the shepherds’ fear; it speaks to the wonder we allow for ourselves when we allow ourselves to visit the manger, to “come to Bethlehem and see,” a baby who is already a king, a God who chose to be mortal, a word that chose to be flesh.
A Territory that chose to become a Map.
In light of Gordon’s recommendations, I find myself reading The Internet is Not the Answer, about the fundamental disruption of the world at the hands of the software-eats-world crowd. We lived, once upon a time, in a world with a multivalenced global culture and a complexity of local/regional cultures, and a murmuration of languages. Increasingly, though, a Babel of computer languages has taken the place of all of that. We’re flattening the territory into a map, making flesh into Word, real life into executable code.
What must it have been like for divinity to take on flesh? It must be something like being a thirty-year employee of Kodak or another giant of the old economy, suddenly discovering yourself old and helpless in a rotting northern industrial city while the rich kids of Instagram eat your retirement fund in an evening out.
Six boxes made, three to go, earlier today I ruined four pieces of paper trying to get those last three boxes made. I expressed my frustration and dismay to my mother the artist, who sympathized but would not let me give up. “Effort to make magic for others is never really wasted.”
So whether you visit the Nativity in your dreams or upon your parents’ mantlepiece or at a churchyard on a nearby street, whether tomorrow you celebrate a long-ago birthday or not, here is my wish for you, for us: Peace on earth, and goodwill to all people; mystery, sweetness, and joy in the coming year. May your words be made flesh. May your maps become territory. May the magic you make for others be successful.