Canadian poet, J.S. Porter, writes:
its passing, its oblivion.
Touch woos the woman;
Kiss awakens the princess.
One is death.
Two is life.
One rubbing against another makes fire
And fire leaps and jumps like life.
One is stone,
Two is flesh.
The flesh mother and the flesh father make
the flesh child.
Remember, eternity once in the high fever of
creation made flesh life, and only
flesh life escapes the doom of everlasting
repeating recurring things.
Tremble at stone
quake at wood.
But honour flesh.
(The Thomas Merton Poems, Moonstone Press, c1988)
Christmas, the mystery of the Incarnation, honors flesh, its goodness and importance, beyond the imagination of even the most rabid materialist, Marxist, or hedonist for the very term “incarnation” (deriving from the latin IN CARNUS) means “in flesh”, “in carnality”, “in radical materiality”.
The incarnation is a multifaceted diamond turning in the sun. It gives off many sparkles, many meanings, and not the least of these is the value of the flesh, the material, the sensual, the physical. Christmas is, at its core, a very physical, sensual mystery. Tragically, this is rarely understood inside of our Christian circles as well as outside of them.
Freud once said that you understand things best by looking at them when they are broken. Well, Christian spirituality has broken its real link to the flesh, just as those circles which have most criticized Christianity for doing this (Marxism, hedonism, and science) have also, though in a very different way, done.
Christianity today has painted itself (and has been painted by those outside of it) into a corner wherein it is perceived as being anti-materialistic, anti-sensual, anti-body, anti-sexual, anti-physical pleasure, and anti-erotic. Marxism, hedonism, and science have claimed these areas (the physical, the sexual, the body, the erotic, physical pleasure) as their areas and stand, most times against Christianity, as defenders of the flesh, of its reality, goodness, and importance.
This is a sad and tragic critique of a religion which begins with God being born into the flesh. I am not sure how we’ve come to this point, nor why in both old and new theologies (the “old” theologies which were all about the soul and never about the body; and the “new” theologies which, even as they react to the spiritualism of the old, are perennially uncomfortable with Christ’s “physical” resurrection … “it’s not important whether or not Jesus’ physical body came out of the tomb!”) there is forever the reluctance, for once and for all, to affirm the God bearing goodness of real flesh, the physical. Somehow we never we end up honoring the flesh. Invariably we end up crassly or subtly devaluing the flesh even when the center of our faith is all about “the word made flesh”.
The criticism made against us on this point by the Marxists, the hedonists, and many scientists and materialists is true. And it’s as true of newer spiritualities and theologies as it is of older ones. Nobody takes the flesh seriously enough. In our defense, it should be pointed out the Marxists, hedonists, scientists, and materialists (always so ready to see our weakness here) fare no better in the long run. They too end up missing the full reality of the flesh, not because they take it so seriously, but because they don’t take it seriously enough. No more so than we, pathological spiritualists that we are, do they turn to the flesh and find it shimmering with divinity. We miss the flesh for the divine, they miss the divine for the flesh. Both of us miss Christmas. Neither of us finds “the word made flesh”, God “in Carnality”
Nikos Kazantzakis once said that God became “a piece of bread, a cup of cool water, a warm tunic, a hut, and in the front of hut, a woman giving suck to an infant” so that we might see him and bow down and worship his “many-faced face.” (The Last Temptation of Christ, N.Y., 1971, p. 324)
The word has become flesh, but to celebrate Christmas properly, to worship God’s many-faced face, we must honour flesh.