The Gospels claim, and Christians believe, that divinity is entangled with humanity. The evangelists go even further. When Jesus talks about the Kingdom of God, he is saying that creation itself is shot through with divinity. Divinity is all around us, and it always has been. Poets and mystics alike attempt to see through the veil of ordinary existence to the extraordinary, pulsating life of the world. This requires a deep spiritual practice. One of my favorite poets, Denise Levertov, describes this beautifully with a line from In Memory: After a Friend’s Sudden Death: “to heedfully walk and sing through dailiness noticing stones and flowers.” We must be heedful in our noticing if we are to cultivate a spirituality of incarnational wonder. And once you start practicing this heedful noticing, you find yourself spiritually aligned with the shepherds: accosted by angels, filled with joy and fear, ready to rush off and seek the miraculous.
The most surprising thing about the miraculous in the nativity story in Luke’s Gospel is that it takes the form of a newborn child. Ephraim of Syria, a fourth century poet and theologian, wants us to dwell within this sense of surprise. “Mary bore a mute Babe though in Him were hidden all our tongues.” Jesus, the miracle, the Word that dwelled before time and was active in creation, becomes human as someone who cannot speak. You might say, “well of course, that’s how all of us become human.” But if all things are possible with God, then Jesus’ could have just shown up as an adult. His incarnation as a wordless, squalling baby is meant to tell us something. First, that the spiritual practice of noticing and participating in incarnation takes a great deal of care. We need to attend to it like we would to a newborn. Second, that the spiritual life is a journey, just as physical life is, and that it will have moments of trial and error, success and failure, growth and senescence. We are figurative infants at the beginning of our imitation of Christ, and we would do well to remember that. Babies lack control of words, of their bodies, of their relationships. They are humbly reliant on the people who surround them. And that’s how we should start. With humility and the acknowledgement that we are not in control.