How can the divine speak to us? How can God, who is infinitely beyond, touch us with divine tenderness in a way that we can understand?
Christmas, the birth of Jesus, the incarnation, is ultimately about bridging that unbridgeable divide. We generally don’t realize how beyond the imagination this all is. How can the infinite speak to the finite? How can God console us?
Carlo Carretto, in his book, In Search of the Beyond, offers a wonderful analogy that can be helpful in understanding what is required of the incarnation. Here’s his insight:
Carretto, as we know, was a Little Brother of St. Charles and lived for more than 20 years as a contemplative in Sahara desert. From there, he shares this story:
“At Tazrouk in the Hoggar, the Little Brothers had a fraternity among the ex-slaves of the Tuareg, poor families who lived by cultivating a bit of grain and few vegetables along the oued. The oued of Tazrouk was a haven of peace and the brothers too had their garden, where they worked the soil. But what a labour it was to draw something forth from that sand! If there was not a drought, the locust descended, and if one escaped the locusts there were caterpillars instead. And what is more, rabbits used to come in from round about and make short work of the little bit of green that had been acquired as the result of so much effort. By way of self-defense, therefore, one was compelled to set traps, and these became the source of a bit of meat which was generally not too bad – as long it was not fox or jackal. One evening a flight of storks appeared in the sky above Tazrouk, bound for the north: it was spring at the time. Descending in wide circles, the birds came to pass the night on the oued. In her efforts to find somewhere to alight, a beautiful female stork put her foot right into one of the traps. All that night she lost blood, and when the dawn came, and her companions realized what was happening, it was too late. All attempts to save the poor bird were useless: she died that same day and we buried her at the edge of the oued. But then began the drama which involved each of us intimately. The flight of the storks set out once more for the north, but the partner of the dead stork stayed behind at the oued. That evening we saw the wretched bird come down near the garden, in the same place that his partner had been trapped, and fly round and round, crying and showing by obvious signs that he was looking for something. The went on until sunset. The same scene was repeated next day. The flight of storks had probably reached the Mediterranean by now, and yet this lone bird was still there, searching for his companion. He stayed the entire year. Each day he would go off in search of food, and at sunset we would see his outline against the sky over the garden, as he came down in his usual place, crying, searching and finally going to sleep in the sand where, perhaps, he could still detect the smell of his partner’s blood. The brothers became accustomed to the stork, as he did to them. He would fly into the garden and come over to take whatever morsel of meat or moistened bread the brothers offered him. It was moving to see how sensitive this creature was to the love and attention of the brothers, who, feeling themselves to be somehow responsible for his bereavement, redoubled their attentions. I remember the look in his eyes, his habit of cocking his head on one side, the regular movement of his beak, and the way he had of staring at me, as if he was trying to catch hold of me and escape his solitude. I, for my part, tried to understand him, but I remained myself, and he remained a stork. I remained imprisoned within my limitations as he did in his – limitations fixed for us by nature. There was no possibility of communication.”
God’s nature is not ours, just as God’s language is not our own. Indeed the gap between a human being and a stork is minuscule in comparison to the chasm between God and ourselves. Carretto’s analogy is weak, though for the opposite reason we might suppose. The metaphysical gap between God and ourselves is so much greater than the distance that Carretto sensed between himself and the stork that the comparison should perhaps not be made.
It’s a good analogy nonetheless, not because the metaphysics transfers easily and accurately, but because the tenderness and sympathy do. God, no doubt, perhaps most times, must feel exactly that same sympathy that Carretto felt as he looked into the eyes of that stork and saw its wound, its helplessness, and its desperate need for a connection that would help it escape its solitude.