Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Day: "And the soul felt its worth"

"... he appeared, and the soul felt its worth ..."

This morning, as I prepared a pancake breakfast for my expanded Christmas morning family while listening to a Scott Simon interview of the The Puppini Sisters on NPR, I was struck by a lyric from their favorite Christmas carol. I’ve heard this lovely piece hundreds of times, sung it myself scores of times, but this morning the words fell upon my ears with fresh power: “'til he appeared and the soul felt its worth.”

The birth of Jesus, the song reminds us, forever raised mankind’s view of himself, lifting his lot from pining in sin and error to a thrilling hopefulness, to the dawning of a new and glorious morning. “ ... and the soul felt its worth.” By invading our material reality, and permeating earth with his transcendence, God forever ennobled life on this plane! By clothing himself in the flesh of humanity, God upped our stock, setting a new baseline value on what it means to be human! Nothing can impress upon the soul its eternal worth like the nativity scene, the humble babe housing infinity, the suffusion of man-flesh with unimaginable transcendent greatness.

The French wine merchant Adolphe Adam, and the English version translator John Sullivan Dwight merely assume this elevation of human dignity accompanying the divine visitation we commemorate on this day. David Bentley Hart builds the case methodically and potently in his brilliant work, Atheist Delusions. At the very core of what Hart calls the Christian Revolution is what he labels as nothing short of “the invention of the human.” As he traces the development of human worth through history, he argues cogently how effectively Jesus, the central figure in history, redefines what it means to be human. “ ... and the soul felt its worth.”

He also brings his readers face-to-face with the stark and terrifying prospect of a humankind delivered of its Christian influence. “If, as I have argued in these pages, the ‘human’ as we now understand it is the positive invention of Christianity, might it not be the case that a culture that has become truly post-Christian will also, ultimately, become posthuman?”

The chilling day when humanism has followed the path of a discarded Christmas, the day Hart sees looming on our horizon is not yet upon us. Nor is it inevitable. For now, the essential message of the Incarnation still rings clear. And Christians should boldly herald its powerful implications: Jesus appeared! “ ... and the soul felt its worth.” every soul! every color! every gender! every age! every ethnicity! every culture! the value of every person has been forever elevated by the event we know as Christmas. This revaluing of humanity is at the heart of the mega-joy implicit in Bethlehem’s child! This is the good news. It is this gospel that should be in our hearts, upon our lips, and lived out of our lives.

“ ... and the soul felt its worth.”

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

By now, last month's surprise Hallelujah Chorus at the food court in a Welland, Ontario shopping mall has spread all over the internet. If you have not yet, you must view it! As I watched it today for the sixth or seventh time, finding my smiles yet irrepressible, and still wiping tears from my eyes, I wondered ...

The popular Antitheists of our day, and cultural icons like John Lennon, insist that the world will be a better place when all religion has been eradicated! Ah yes, “Imagine” with me a world forever cleansed of George Frideric Handel!

I tried in vain to think of a single cultural contribution that comes close to Handel’s Messiah which has been inspired by thoughts of a god-free cosmos. I could not think of anything that stirs the heart and soul. I did think of John Lennon’s ode to a world delivered of the joys and hopes of faith. Ah yes, Imagine! The words and music are, admittedly, mildly arousing. A bit mournful. Kind of like dry toast. Or old black and white photography. But still, I’ve sung along and (genuinely) tried to catch Lennon’s fervor (if indeed we could call it that). But listening to Lennon I have never felt the exhilaration, the sheer unquenchable joy flooding my whole being, mind and soul, which arise involuntarily during these five minutes of Handel in the Mall.

But I must admit to a faith-induced predilection to experience such a high! My atheist friends will no doubt find themselves yawning in boredom. And surely they can point me to works of art, music or visual arts, that stir their souls, that inspire them profoundly, that awaken deep emotions of joys rising to overwhelm their senses. I would love to hear about them!

Now I know that there is a certain sense of awe and excitement that is energized by our discoveries in physics and biology. I share those! They are wonderful. But, if I may be so bold to say so, they do not even fit into the same category with the sheer transcendent delight aroused by countless examples of faith-inspired art and literature.

Nevertheless, I am assured by those who seem to know, that the lot of mankind will be greatly improved when the vestiges of faith and religion are but fading memories. The Antitheists will no doubt breath a huge sigh of relief knowing that their lunch in the food court will never again be so rudely interrupted.