Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Holy Infant

The house was buzzing with activity—some of us wrapping presents, some cooking dinner, the electric train running in circles, Zadie playing, Ella Fitzgerald singing over the speakers, that lively spirit of family gatherings at the holidays. Then the decrescendo of the descending evening, little Zadie put to bed and her parents daring to sneak out to meet friends out in the city. Talia went to her apartment and it was just Karen and I left watching the Daily Show with the Fox News “Santa is white” hilarity.

Just as we turned it off, we heard the bedroom door open and Zadie came toddling down the hall nonchalanty in her PJ’s and joined us on the couch. We could have scolded her and sent her back to bed, but of course, we were delighted and spent the next 30 minutes with her drawing shapes in a little book and talking non-stop to us with a pacifier (her “bobo”) in her mouth. Between the bobo and her still-forming articulation, it sounded a bit like a running monologue in Mandarin Chinese. Every once in a while I asked Zadie if she wanted to go to bed and she responded clearly. “No.” Finally, with Karen falling asleep, I lured her back in with my guitar, lay her down with her Eeyore stuffie and sang “Silent Night” to her. “Sleep in heavenly peace” and lo and behold, she did.

I often talk about how the emergence of the Virgin Mary in the Christian mythology kicked off the fantastic explosion of art and culture in Europe in the Middle Ages. After a thousand years of the Dark Age, the appearance of the feminine both balanced and softened things, resulting in the building of cathedrals like “Notre Dame,” the composition of  music sung first to Mary and later to women by troubadours, trouveres and minnesingers, poems again first inspired by spiritual love for the Virgin and later, romantic love of the idealized woman (leading to Dante, Tristan and Isolde, Romeo and Juliet all the way to Cole Porter and Marilyn Monroe). The story of the Divine Mother captured the imagination of the people, not only inspiring great art, but swelling the numbers of Christian converts.

But it was equally the image of the “Holy Infant, so tender and mild” that sealed the deal. Who can resist the beauty of a mother’s love for a divine child, attended by “friendly beasts” away in a humble manger, announced by a star of wonder, witnessed by three kings bearing gifts. No wonder Christmas soon trumped the earlier more important Easter holiday. We all (I hope!) love babies, their innocence and wide-eyed wonder and the way they perpetually renew our hope for the future.

The house is very quiet now, just me awake with the tree while millions of still-innocent children are dreaming of sugarplums and the appearance of a Santa of any color (deal with it, Fox News!). We let go some of our time-honored Christmas Eve traditions tonight—didn’t drive out to see the luminaries on Mt. Davidson, didn’t light the house with candles only and gather around the piano for one final family carol sing. My daughters didn’t act out Frosty and Rudolf while Ella sang (well, they kind of stopped that in their teenage years anyway). No one left cookies out for Santa.

But no matter. I’ll treasure those quiet moments with Zadie on the couch drawing in her book and then singing to her and Eeyore. On this Christmas Eve, I wish you all a heavenly sleep and divine awakening. The Holy infant lives in us if we attend correctly, as I am reminded on this silent and holy night.

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