This is from a series of short meditations I’m presenting tonight (Christmas Eve) at Holy Cross Monastery.
The shepherds, dully
keeping watch over their flocks by night
are terrified by the sky breaking open and heaven pouring forth
with strange sounds and incomprehensible lights.
A little apocalypse takes place over that rocky field
and they are sore afraid.
But the lights and sounds fade away and the stars return
And the sheep, living fully in the moment,
forget the recent chaos and find themselves grazing
in the middle of the night.
“Let us do over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened,
which the Lord has made known to us.
And they went with haste, and found Mary and Joseph,
and the babe lying in a manger.”
What did the shepherds expect to see?
If they expected to see something extraordinary,
worthy of the sky breaking open and angels singing,
were they disappointed to see the familiar squalor,
dung and fleas and sour hay?
Perhaps they saw the baby sleeping in a feeding trough
or nursing at its mother’s breast,
lovely images, but more likely they saw him
wailing over his discomfort in the cold, of being hungry, of the rigors of learning to digest food, or being wet and sore, skin chafed raw on his bottom, frustrated from sheer helplessness.
Nevertheless, the text tells us, the shepherds saw this and returned glorifying and praising God.
To me, the shepherds represent my instincts,
which, over a lifetime I’ve tried to thoroughly repress.
They knew this birth was extraordinary
not just because the angels told them so.
But because every birth is extraordinary.
Who needs a mystical path to tell you that?
Because of my own lack of such an instinct,
my journey is long.
I can do worse than visit the shepherds once in a while,
and accompany them to this cave or that birthing room
to see miracle after miracle,
the universe bringing forth life to be transfigured again and again.