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Issue Date:  December 16, 2005

From the Editor's Desk

Jitters at the idea of God among us

Much as I harrumph about going to malls during the Christmas season (I have become rather expert at avoiding that prospect, and not just this time of year) I also must admit a certain pleasure when I am amid the seasonal crowds. What I sense in the air from others may be nothing more than anxiety, a mild hysteria over mounting plastic debt or the prospect of the annual visits from out-of-town family.

However, since I resist the urge to stop strangers for a conversation about their state of being, I am free to put whatever spin I wish on the matter, and I choose to imagine that we’re all caught up in the anticipation that is a mark of the Advent season. Perhaps, I am able to argue to myself, what’s really going on among us, believers and nonbelievers alike, is a kind of jitters at the very notion of God among us, however faint that notion might be. Because, I imagine, even at its weakest reverberations, the idea of God among us is simultaneously comforting and staggering to the point of causing more than jitters.

Guadiem et Spes put it this way: “The son of God … worked with human hands; he thought with a human mind. He acted with a human will, and with a human heart he loved. Born of the Virgin Mary, he has truly been made one of us, like to us in all things except sin.”

I have experienced a lifetime of sermons that have attempted, at this time of year, to either awe me with the idea that God, remote and unknowable, somehow became one of us or to convince me that God, in Jesus, offers humankind a sort of quick gateway to another world, to another reality, to heaven. He is our touch with the divine and the infinite and our great escape from this vale of tears.

~ ~ ~

Certainly union with God, as I understand it, brings promise of life beyond our imagination. At the same time, I have to wonder if we’re not missing something, if the offering, indeed, is not so much an escape from our humanity as an invitation into its deepest meaning; if it is not so much figuring a way around our humanity as discovering the way fully into it. “Jesus is the quintessential human being,” Franciscan Fr. Richard Rohr says on a video, “Portrait of a Radical.” The piece, by 4 Seasons Productions (, including reflections by New Testament scholar the Rev. Allen Callahan of Harvard Divinity School and world religions scholar Huston Smith, is a fascinating and modern examination of the human Jesus and the implications of that reality.

Jesus is the lure, says Rohr, “pulling our humanity out of us” and summoning us “to an ever more attractive humanity.”

Good friend Pat Marrin, editor of Celebration magazine, says that during the Christmas season we seem to be eager to clear a way up to God, and we’re so intent on doing that we often miss God coming into humanity. “Jesus was always in the mix of humanity.”

~ ~ ~

Perhaps that’s it. The summons is into the mix. If that’s the case, if we are moved to imitate what we know about Jesus, then the jitters make sense because the invitation to “an ever more attractive humanity” is an invitation to boldness and to risk.

Brother Antoninus captures the sense of things in his poem, “The Flight in the Desert.”

“The man and the anxious woman,” he writes, “went forward into its denseness.”

All apprehensive, and would many a
   time have turned
But for what they carried. That brought
   them on.
In the gritty blanket they bore the
   world’s great risk,
And knew it; and kept it covered, near to
   the blind heart,
That hugs in a bad hour its sweetest
Possessed against the drawn night
That comes now, over the dead arroyos,
Cold and acrid and black.

I might wonder, then, amid this year’s throngs, what our blind hearts ache to see; what we all carry that moves us on; what risks, in love, we will approach with great apprehension.

-- Tom Roberts

National Catholic Reporter, December 16, 2005

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