Sunday, 29 November 2015

The Meaning of Christmas

I was raised in the Church of England. My father was the organist and choirmaster of our parish church and my mother was active in various church clubs. I went to Sunday School every week and from the age of seven was in the choir, which meant attending two services every Sunday and singing at weddings on Saturdays (I have seen more brides walk down the aisle than I care to remember!)

I was taught the story of Jesus and celebrated the two most important events in the Christian calendar - Christmas and Easter - every year till I was sixteen. That was when my parents allowed me to decide whether I wanted to stay in the church or not. I left and have not returned. However, many years later, becoming familiar with the theory and practice of Voice Dialogue has given me a new insight into the story that so informed my childhood years.

Jesus lived thirty-three years on this planet, but the occasions we celebrate most of all are his birth and his death. What is it that links these two momentous events?

He was born in a stable. There was no hospital with doctors and nurses in attendance; no clean bed with white sheets for his mother to lie in; no warm water or towels available to wash and dry him. His parents were not married; Joseph was not even the father; they were on the run and under threat of death from Herod’s soldiers; there was no comfort and no safety. It seems to me that symbolically this is as clear a description of being born vulnerable as one can get.

The story of Jesus’ birth reminds us that our birthright is vulnerability. Take a newborn baby and leave it alone and it will surely die. We are dependent on the adults around us to take care of us - much longer than for any other species. We need attention, approval and affection to survive and thrive. The theory of the Psychology of Selves tells us that our Primary selves develop to protect this core vulnerability. They have us behave in ways designed to get our survival needs met in our particular family, society and culture. As these protector selves develop, so our vulnerability often gets buried and forgotten.

At his death, was Jesus in the comfort of his own bed in his own home? Were his friends and family by his bedside? Was his doctor close by to relieve his pain? No. He was betrayed, stripped naked and had a crown of thorns pushed onto his head. He was paraded through jeering crowds, hauling a heavy cross on his back. He was nailed up for all to see, with the most vulnerable parts of his body totally exposed. It was a brutal and public death and again symbolically a painfully clear description of dying vulnerable.

The story of his death reminds us that our “deathright” is vulnerability. As we age and our bodies start to deteriorate our Primary protecting selves cannot handle situations as they once did - our energy and stamina decline, our memory begins to fail us, and our actions slow. This causes our vulnerability to resurface and be felt. We are the only animal on the planet that knows some day we must die. No matter what our belief system may be about death, we have no proof as to what happens to us once we depart. This not knowing can’t but prick our vulnerability.

For me, Christmas and Easter are reminders that we are born and die vulnerable. It is an essential condition of being alive and human on this planet. Vulnerability that we are unaware of or that we do not feel safe sharing with others is at the root of most conflict, so how we handle our vulnerability throughout our lives is the real issue for us. Do we identify with our Primary protecting selves and disown, bury or try to forget our vulnerability? Or do we use it as a guide to becoming fuller, more conscious human beings?