~ it is not far ~ it never will be far ~"
~ Sara Teasdale ~
"Be not forgetful to entertain strangers:
for thereby some have entertained angels unawares."
A couple of months ago, on this blog, I listed a few of the illuminating observations that appear in Emerson's essay, "Experience, including one of my favorites:
There is an optical illusion about every person we meet. . . . I had fancied that the value of life lay in its inscrutable possibilities; in the fact that I never know, in addressing myself to a new individual, what may befall me. I carry the keys of my castle in my hand, ready to throw them at the feet of my lord, whenever and in what disguise so ever he shall appear. I know he is in my neighborhood hidden among vagabonds. . . . Let us treat the men and women well: treat them as if they were real: perhaps they are (from "Experience" written by Ralph Waldo Emerson, in 1844).
Yes indeed! One of them might be King! Or the Peacemaker. Or an Angel, unawares! As poet Sara Teasdale says, "Look for a lovely thing and you will find it; it is not far -- it never will be far."
Brian Andreas (a messiah for the New Age, if ever there was one*) draws a similar conclusion in his story of the "Purple Madonna":
One time on Hollywood Boulevard I saw a young girl with a baby. It was a crisp winter morning & her hair shone dark purple in the sun. She was panhandling outside the Holiday Inn & the door clerk came out & told her to be on her way & I wondered if anyone would recognize the Christ child if they happened to meet. I remember thinking it's not like there are any published pictures & purple seemed like a good color for a Madonna so I gave her a dollar just in case. (from StoryPeople)
Madonna with us. Child with us. God with us. Angels with us.
Jeff Smith (1939 - 2004; aka The Frugal Gourmet and onetime chaplain) gives an excellent etymological breakdown of this very concept, and his enthusiasm is infectious. He provides a definition of The Messiah, The Holy One of Israel that encompasses the lord among the vagabonds and the Christ Child on the street corner:
The Holy One = "one who is so far above man and womankind, so distant and beyond our understanding, so heavenly and unapproachable, beyond the beyond, never near us."
Of Israel = "right here in town."
"That is to say, The Most Distant One is here in town with us, always. I love that!" (see The Frugal Gourmet Celebrates Christmas, 3)
In our neighborhood. Hidden among vagabonds. On the Boulevard. Here in town. With us.
Emerson, Andreas, and Smith all convey the importance of persistently acknowledging the humanity of others, at all times, just in case. "A golden impossibility" -- that's what Emerson says we are, but also an "inscrutable possibility."
Smith's book, The Frugal Gourmet Celebrates Christmas is the best holiday cookbook I know of. More than a collection of recipes, it is also a fascinating narrative of cultural history and seasonal tradition, ingeniously illustrated and creatively organized. Each chapter presents a dish for a different character from the traditional manger scene: angel hair pasta for the angels, green olive soup for the shepherds (I tried this recipe one year -- odd), lamb chops for the tax collector, Persian meatballs for the Magi, right down to milk and honey for the Baby Jesus.
In addition to the tempting recipes (both my latkes and my mincemeat are taken from here), this book beautifully achieves the author's stated mission of bringing "the Manger and the Donkey, the Angels, and the Blessed Mother with Child into your Christmas," thus helping the reader to "better understand this profound and joyous holiday" (xviii, xx).
An ordained minister as well as a chef, Smith recalls an epiphany of sorts that occurred one Christmas during his graduate school years when he and a group of fellow theology students were singing "O Come All Ye Faithful":
I realized it was the first time in my life that I understood the words: 'Word of the Father, Now in Flesh Appearing.' The fact that God had to go to such extremes to explain the meaning of our place together. God declares Himself / Herself to us by becoming a baby in our midst. The greatest sign of weakness, 'living flesh' in its most vulnerable state, a tiny baby, becomes the greatest sign of the strength of the Holy One, a strength born out of love beyond our furthest imaginings, a strength that, I suppose, still looks to many of us like weakness. (xvi - xvii)
After reading Smith's unforgettable explanation, the song took on a whole new meaning for me. Every time I hear it now, I listen a bit more closely than I ever did before:
Light from Light eternal . . .
we too will thither, bend our joyful footsteps . . .
who would not love thee, loving us so dearly . . .
I love that!
*Brian Andreas: "We're already in the new age, she said. What does that mean? I said. It means we can stop waiting & start living, she said but after she left, I still waited a little while more just to be safe."
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READ THE LATEST POST ON MY BOOK BLOG:
"FEASTS AND SEASONS"
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