"We must risk delight . . . We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world.” -Jack Gilbert
CHRISTMAS is closing in on us, but my heart is not quite there. During my morning walk in a sunlit city park, it feels more like a “mourning “ walk as I attempt to fend off dire forebodings about the future of our country, our world, our planet. The Herods of the world seem to be taking control; a black curtain is descending and joy seems like a distant memory, a faraway feeling—possibly an inappropriate expression at such a serious time.
But then, as I look ahead on the tree-studded path, my eye catches a twinkle of blue, red, and purple—a kind of glittering gladness pirouetting in the sun. Shortly I find myself standing before a young, spiky, reed of a tree, on which some courageous soul has hung a rainbow of glass ornaments, which appear like jewels, electric in the sun.
But who dares to dress up a young tree in the park? I mean, this is a public space where anyone can come along and steal the ornaments or toss them on the ground and crush them with a boot.
But here it is, a random act of beauty, a tiny revolt against the powerful forces of doom and gloom—and it seems to me that there is something rather mischievous and marvelous about this whole encounter, as if the tree is saying:
“I’m a one-tree uprising, an arboreal rebellion against all the darkness happening in the world. Risky? Crazy? Maybe. But if you can’t make room in your soul for gladness, then all your acts of resistance are lost before you begin. But as for me, on this sunlit day--adorned as I am with this risky, breakable beauty--I choose to be a rebel of hope. Will you join me, so I don’t have to be alone?”
Isn’t that what Christmas is about? Joy and vulnerability defying the worst of circumstances. Risky business, oh, yes. But this is what saves us: not an all-powerful king, but a refugee child born on a shoestring of hope.
And so it is, when we come upon these graceful moments of vulnerable beauty, we can rejoice, not just for joy’s sake, but because we catch a glimpse of something more--something underneath the despair of this world. It is here, in these luminous moments that we find our faith again, an assurance that there is, in the imagery of Thomas Merton, a hidden wholeness underneath the brokenness of the world. In this season, we call this Emmanuel, God with us.
And in the presence of this dangled radiance of colored glass on young spiky limbs, I can’t help but imagine the hidden wholeness as “Indra’s Net” of jewels: an invisible web-like net in which each of us is a multi-faceted jewel placed at each “eye” of the net. Each jewel in the net—each tree and person and star and lady bug—reflects one another, so that no one is ever really alone.
We might think of God as the jeweled net itself, the One most beautiful, the Loving Presence who suffers with us in the darkness, and who lures us to reflect one another with empathy and compassion.
To affirm this invisible world of interconnected beauty against the ugliness of unfolding world events, is to take a stubborn stance against cynicism. It is to be an active participant in a revolution of love.
Defiance begins in vulnerable places where, against all odds, gladness refuses to be stamped out. A baby, a star, a song, a scrub of a tree adorned boldly with luminous shades of glass—here begins the revolution: an uprising of crazy, beautiful, defiant joy. This is rebellion, this is life, this is hope. This is Christmas.