The Irvine Tartan • My monthly column in The New Brunswick Anglican
Our Church has not witnessed more convincingly for having enjoyed the ear of society.
The arrangements of composers of past generations have allowed us to bask in the faint pallor of Noma lights, tinsel and eggnog.
Pews, swollen for a night with people familiar with the Story and the Song, have adjudicated us. And we’ve been found wanting.
Ignorance and Want accompany the Ghost of every Christmas Present. Dickens allowed Ebenezer’s epiphany of the urchins. Their recognition contributed to the curmudgeon’s redemption. I’ve learned that Ignorance and Want attend every Christmas Present. Fear and Greed attempt to isolate them, but they persist in haunting us afresh, daily.
Thinking myself capable of avoiding these hauntings, like Ebenezer, I distanced myself from the pain and anguish and, yes, even the threat of both Ignorance and Want. I viewed them as apart from me. Wrong, now I know them a part of me!
Shrouded in the wrappings of Christmas Present, I have discovered my Ignorance and my Want.
My suspicion is that Christmas presents are nothing but a veneer unless we examine beneath the wrappings. There’s nothing new here. It may come as news nonetheless. Asked what I’d like for Christmas, my list of presents has never included Ignorance or Want.
But Ignorance and Want were under a tree, waiting to be found, unwrapped, taken possession of.
I don’t mean Ignorance as in, “I didn’t know what to get for you.” Neither do I mean Want as in, “I didn’t know what you wanted.” Those are other’s guesses. Those are other’s tentative, cautious oblations. We hope that even the most outlandish tie will find acceptance, and perhaps an occasion!
Rather, I mean Ignorance as in, “Of what am I ignorant?” I am ignorant of the opportunities missed to bring myself as gift to another’s need: not gold or frankincense or even myrrh. I am suggesting other gifts. I am ignorant of my capacity to forgive and love. I am ignorant of my need to forgive, and love. My ignorance diminishes me. My recognition of Ignorance allows me to look within myself and face that part of me that so needs Christmas Presence.
Want is not far removed. Reluctant to produce a wish list that would disclose my greed, I fall back on the ubiquitous “socks, tooth paste and scarf” list that dishonestly maintains my self-effacement. What I really want I wouldn’t dare to write or whisper: faith, hope… love. Found present by wise men and women in every generation, awkwardly tripping over their jewel encrusted gold caskets bearing worldly baubles – the fruits of success.
But this is not exchange of presents. We have nothing to offer but ourselves, our presence.
Ebenezer’s daily striving allowed for redemptive epiphanies in a London society with different struggles than our place and time. But quickened faith is no less in want now as then. The distinctions in class then have other barriers today, and compassion is no less in demand. The political, economic and social challenges that separate and divide us today are not particularly new. The consequences are no different: people are excluded, exploited, lessened. The blind, and the crippled, the imprisoned and impoverished – those who need good news of a kingdom: and a King who is prophet and priest as well.
Our recognition, as in a mirror, of Ignorance and Want has the capacity of transforming our Fear and Greed. Courage will give us a fresh voice. And others will add their voices. Old tunes will sound new! Courage will give us a fresh ear to hear a familiar Story. Others will listen as well. We will see with new eyes! Courage will renew our will, reflective of a Will that draws everyone to himself.
You may be getting ready to dismantle your tree just about now. Or perhaps you have already taken care of that. In the event that you haven’t, you will have the empty ornament boxes arranged on cushion seats and end tables. The vacuum cleaner is ready to pick up the spills. You may even have placed a seasonal CD in your player for one last time – perhaps, like me, Linda Eder or Kiri Te Kanawa – allowing for one more reflective moment as you begin the domestic rites of Epiphany.
But before you begin, take a moment and look around. Any Presence left unwrapped?
Copyright © 2003 James T. Irvine
Images: Dickens’ London
Midi: God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen