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My favorite 700-year-old Christmas quotation

What good is it to me if Mary gave birth to the Son of God 1400 years ago and I do not give birth to the Son of God in my own person and time and culture? . . .We are all meant to be mothers of God.

—Meister Eckhart (c. 1260—c. 1328)

Meister Eckhart was a Dominican monk, theologian, preacher, and mystic. He got himself in trouble with the Inquisition for statements like the one above. On his deathbed, church officials were still trying to get him to recant his writings about God being compelled to enter the soul when we empty it of all else. Mystics—those who experience the immanent presence of God in themselves, everyone else, and all of creation—have always been held in suspicion by those in power in various religious traditions. Jesus, a mystic whose simple spirituality of “love one another” and “when you do it to the least, you do it to me” was so threatening to the religious leaders of his time that they cooperated in having him executed. (Note: Meister Eckhart was formally cleared by the church only in the 1990s and is now considered in his Catholic tradition to be a theologian in good standing.)

There is a lot of talk at this time of year about not forgetting “the reason for the season.” The problem is not so much that we would forget that Christ is a part of Christmas, but that we forget that we are called to give birth to divine energies in our lives 365 days per year. Francis of Assisi’s “make me a channel of peace” conveys the same idea. When we allow spirituality to deeply transform our way of thinking and living, we become more and more intentional about living each day as a channel of divine peace or a filament for divine compassion.

The late German theologian Dorothee Soelle (1929—2003) wrote: “Soren Kierkegaard practiced this distinction between those who esteem Christ and those who follow him. If I esteem him, then I lift him ever higher and have nothing to do with him; I use my admiration to keep myself free of Christ.”

I think Soelle is saying that emphasizing how amazing Jesus was—how high he was above all of us sinners—allows us to distance ourselves from the challenge of living as he did with universal love and compassion. Jesus’s affinity for the economically poor and the poor of spirit does not suggest a man who wanted to be worshipped while he was alive or after his death. He seemed, rather, to hope that he would be imitated. Sometimes I wonder if “imitator of Christ” would be a better description and reminder of what it means to be Christian than “follower of Christ.” Perhaps the gap between follower and imitator is why, when asked his opinion of Christianity, Gandhi said, “I like your Christ,I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” In a similar spirit, Catholic writer G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936) wrote: “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.”

Here’s an image I often use to think about all this. I imagine that the soul is like a camera in reverse: it contains the divine light, and the way we live determines how open the aperture is—how much of the light we allow to shine out to the world. Jesus’s aperture was open so wide that people said, “Who is this? Is this God?” As long as we remember that we are a filament for an energy much bigger than ourselves, we are in no danger of spiritual egotism here. The more we sense the light in ourselves, the more we can see it in others—and the more we can let it shine.

Wishing you a blessed celebration of Jesus’ birth on December 25 and best wishes in 2016 for your efforts to be a mother of God every day of the year in your corner of the kingdom.

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