Wednesday, December 30, 2015
Our Brave Delight
Merry Christmas to all!
I have always found great inspiration in our hymns. In some ways I think of our hymnals as our best theological reflection on the reality of relationship with God, companionship with Jesus, and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
This year a phrase caught my attention early on and has stuck with me. It's from "Angels we have heard on high." You miss it if you sing the "popular" version, but not in the version of our hymnal.
Angels we have heard on high, singing sweetly through the night.
And the mountains in reply, echoing their brave delight.
"Their brave delight." Christmas is about stirring up in us our brave delight.
Despite the spelling, "delight" does not necessarily have anything to do with "light." It shares the same root with the word "delicate," which until only relatively recently had a negative sense about it. Both words, delight and delicate, have to do with something that is pleasing, a reveling in something that is enjoyed.
What about this sense of the word delight is "brave?"
Most of all, I take the word "delight" to be the opposite of cynical or pessimistic. Now we live in a world where it is so easy to be cynical and/or pessimistic that it is a state of being without thought. It has become a "natural" response to take very little at face value, to trust nothing but one's own mind and senses. I do not suppose that this way of being is anything new, but it does seem to be increasingly dominant in our time.
It takes courage, bravery, to be delighted, especially in times of cynicism, pessimism, fear and anger. It takes courage, for example, to delight in another human life simply for its being, especially to trust that being is "made in the image of God" no matter what else seems true. We do not tend to start with delight upon seeing another. Our delight tends only to come when it is clear the other has something for us, can answer positively the question, "What [about you] is in it for me?"
I am reminded of a quote a parishioner gave me many years ago which I have somehow been able to keep. It's by a woman named Marjorie Kelly. It's from sometime before February 1992.
We are caught, today, in the ethics of a machine: the ethos that names any imperfection a failure, a breakdown, a defect. In the pursuit of perfection we reject all who are powerless, unattractive or impaired. Worse, we disown those parts of ourselves that feel helpless, ugly and incompetent. In the ethics of the machine there are only two states: perfect and imperfect. Perfection is the ultimate. Everything else is bad, faulty or wrong. This is a good definition of tyranny. And it is [thus] this tyranny under which we live our lives, our work, our personalities, our bodies.
It occurs to me on reading this quote, that the author is also describing how the word "delicate" became a negative word--a journey from its original life as a synonym of delight to its current life as a synonym for weak.
The "brave delight" of the angels was in announcing to people (shepherds) who counted little, a birth full of imperfections, but which, in spite of those imperfections, and quite possibly because of them was the birth of God with us. The baby had nothing to give us except his life.
In the midst of our life, 2,000 years later, it is still brave to delight in this baby, indeed to delight in anything just because he, she, it, or they is/are. It is brave even to believe that is precisely how God works. Delight first (other wise known as grace) and in spite of (and, is it possible, even because of) our imperfections.