by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM, for December 24, 2017
Sometimes a word and a moment collide and their merging breaks open fresh meaning.
Not long ago, I had left the TV on and went to take a shower. As I was exiting the bathroom, I could tell, even without seeing the TV, that whatever program I had been watching earlier had now switched to the daily liturgy. Just as I was slathering Aveeno on my winter-dry skin, the words of the Eucharistic consecration filled the room: “This is my body.”
I stood up straight with recognition. Suddenly my hand filled with cream, my skin glistening with lotion, my fingers gently smoothing moisturizer over rough elbows—all were suffused in a moment of nuanced definition. It was as if a light had shone on my body and I was seeing my flesh for the first time. Yes, I thought, this is my body, the keeper of memory, the recorder of pain and delight and wounds and dreams. This is my body. And it is so much more.
My very flesh, my human flesh, my blessed and broken flesh is no ordinary thing, graced as it is by the Holy One. My flesh embodies the Holy One. In this season of preparing our hearts for the coming of a vulnerable Child, haven’t we been reflecting on what it means to have a body? What it means to take on our human condition as Jesus did, like us in all things save sin? What it means to incarnate the Holy in our own lives?
As we stand on the edge of celebrating the Nativity, we remember how God’s love, so great it could not be contained, expressed itself and became enfleshed in our humanity. This divine expression is Jesus, whose body shivered in the cold, succumbed to fatigue, hungered for bread and for fish, felt the sting of the whip and the weight of the cross, slipped away for quiet prayer, drank wine at a wedding, enjoyed the company of cherished friends. Jesus, who during his time living on this Earth gave flesh to the words, “This is My body.”
The Holy One, living in each of us right here, right now, continues to proclaim, “This is My body.” This is My body today, breathless at the sight of a sunset, crippled with arthritis, savoring a meal, parched with thirst in migration, perspiring during manual labor. This is My body, reading a story, writing an email, sleepless with worry, delighted in play, grieving a loss, longing for renewal.
Simeon the New Theologian (949-1022) has been trying to tell us this mystical truth for all of our lives. May we listen to him with a heightened consciousness these days as we pray his poem prayer, Awakening the Beloved:
We awaken in Christ’s body, as Christ awakens our bodies.
There I look down and my poor hand is Christ,
He enters my foot and is infinitely me.
I move my hand and wonderfully
My hand becomes Christ,
Becomes all of Him.
I move my foot and at once
He appears in a flash of lightning.
Do my words seem blasphemous to you?
–Then open your heart to Him.
And let yourself receive the one
Who is opening to you so deeply.
For if we genuinely love Him,
We wake up inside Christ’s body
Where all our body all over,
Every most hidden part of it,
Is realized in joy as Him,
And he makes us utterly real.
And everything that is hurt, everything
That seemed to us dark, harsh, shameful,
Maimed, ugly, irreparably damaged
Is in Him transformed.
And in Him, recognized as whole, as lovely,
And radiant in His light,
We awaken as the beloved
In every last part of our body.
Find some quiet time over the Christmas holidays.
If possible, pray near a crèche or Nativity scene and gaze on it.
Reflect on the wonder that is your human body:
For what are you most grateful?
What aspects of being human are challenging for you?
Share this with the Holy One as you sit in stillness and in gratitude.
You are in my heart and prayer for blessings for you and all in our beautiful, yet wounded world at this Christmas and into the new year to come.
Chris Koellhoffer, Nativity from Mexico
Thank you for your prayerful support of the retreats and presentations that formed my Advent journey this year.
Please now hold in prayer my days of stillness and reflection during January as I prepare for a full calendar in the new year. Thank you.
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