April 18, 2007

Hide 'n Seek

When I was a kid, I found the Resurrection accounts where Jesus prevented Himself from being recognized as off-putting.

Call me a budding "compassionate conservative", but I didn't understand why Jesus delayed reassuring them of his triumph over death - I longed for each encounter to be immediately reassuring to the person who was missing Him just as I would seek out family members immediately if I'd escaped a kidnapping or something. (By the way, the unfortunate tendency to judge God by our standards was addressed in Pope Benedict's encyclical: "An authentically religious attitude prevents man from presuming to judge God, accusing him of allowing poverty and failing to have compassion for his creatures. When people claim to build a case against God in defence of man, on whom can they depend when human activity proves powerless?")

Now I see a bit more clearly how He did it in order that we, the thousand generations that have followed, might not be surprised to find Him in unexpected places. How he did it for us, we who would come and be blessed by virtue of not having seen Him and still believe. (The pastor of our Byzantine church said that he feels sorry for Thomas the Apostle and that our faith is our blessedness; the day God provides proof of himself is the day he (Fr. T) becomes an atheist.) Christ's whole life was to some extent that story of disguise. From not finding room at the inn at Bethlehem to being passed over unnoticed by many on the hill of Calvary, the story is that of a hidden God, hidden in the unlikeliest places. Chesterton writes in Irish Impressions:

When I was on the wild coast of Donegal, an old unhappy woman who had starved through the famines and the evictions, was telling a lady the tales of those times; and she mentioned quite naturally one that might have come straight out of times so mystical that we should call them mythical; that some travellers had met a poor wandering woman with a baby in those great gray rocky wastes, and asked her who she was. And she answered, "I am the Mother of God, and this is Himself; and He is the boy you will all be wanting at the last."

There is more in that story than can be put into any book, even on a matter in which its meaning plays so deep a part; and it seems almost profane to analyse it however sympathetically. But if any one wishes to know what I mean by the untranslatable truth which makes a language national, it will be worth while to look at the mere diction of that speech, and note how its whole effect turns on certain phrases and customs which happen to be peculiar to the nation.

It is well known that in Ireland the husband or head of the house is always called "himself"; nor is it peculiar to the peasantry, but adopted, if partly in jest, by the gentry.... Take away, "This is Himself" and simply substitute "This is He"; and it is a piece of pedantry ten thousand miles from the original.

Their historical experience, alas, has made it seem to them not unnatural that the Holy Family should be a homeless family. They also have found that there was no room for them at the inn, or anywhere but in the jail; they also have dragged their new-born babes out of their cradles, and trailed in despair along the road to Egypt, or at least along the road to exile. They also have heard in the dark and the distance behind them, the noise of the horsemen of Herod.

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