Tag: beauty

The True Meaning of Christmas

This Christmas season has not been an easy one for me. Here I am, Christmas Day, and I’m unemployed, with no idea when or whether I’ll find another job and barely enough money to get me through another month–and that’s after spending several weeks, a month or two ago, looking for work. Financially speaking, this has probably been the most difficult time of my life, and it hasn’t been terribly easy in other regards either: I’ve felt distant from loved ones often, have suffered a lot of fear and uncertainty about my future, and struggled against the crushing feeling that I am sinking back into a routine of life that is going nowhere and profiting me nothing. It has certainly not been a time of carefree joy and happy togetherness.

And yet, as all this has been going on, I have also been more deeply aware of the true meaning of Christmas than ever in my life before. “The true meaning of Christmas.” That’s a phrase that gets bandied about a lot nowadays, especially in those sappy “family films” that we all know and love (or hate, as the case may be). And yet, with all this talk, it seems that the meaning of Christmas is still surprisingly elusive. The modern world, by and large, takes that meaning to be as follows: Christmas is a time for giving, for being together with loved ones and reconciling your differences, for being magnanimous towards others and for spreading good cheer wherever you might find yourself. Then of course, there is the commercial side of it, fueled by that very spirit of giving but still all too often erupting into something unhealthy, dry, withered, and ugly. Those things are not bad things (not even commerce, if kept under control–after all, buying and selling brings prosperity!). Yet it seems to me that the secular modern (and all too often, even the religious) world’s understand of Christmas is like a person who looks at an empty house and mistakes it for a home. The soul is missing from the modern notion of Christmas.

So, what is the true meaning of Christmas? The things I listed before are not that meaning, but only its effects: they are a celebration for which the cause has been forgotten or pushed to the background. And that cause is the most profound event in history: that God Himself, the eternal, changeless being, the cause of all that is or ever shall be, the Infinite, Who know human can ever understand or comprehend, chose to become incarnate in human flesh; and what is more, in the flesh of a helpless baby, born of a human woman lowly in all respects save for the extraordinary graces that she was given. Let that sink in. God is infinite, immanent and yet transcendent; He took on a face. God is too vast to be named; He took on a name, and one as common as Jack or Bob, at that. God is all-powerful; he became a helpless baby, utterly dependent on His mother, so fragile that to be left alone for a day could have spelled His death. And He came so that we humans, the oath-breakers, who by right should be cast aside, might become adopted into God’s family and made brothers and sisters of Christ, flesh of His flesh and bone of His bone.

That is the mystery that we celebrate, the great paradox, the incredibly wondrous event which is at the heart of all the joyful outer trappings of Christmas. Christmas as we know it, with all those things that have come to be misidentified as its “true meaning,” would not exist without the Incarnation. The festival has become so great only by the power of faith which has borne it up all through the years; and even though the soul has gone out of it in so many places, that ancient wonder is still there holding it up, and will surely continue to do so as long as it is remembered.

Back to the beginning: this Christmas season has been pretty tough for me. But even in the most difficult times, there is still beauty to be found, and I think it is very fitting that I have seen the beauty of Christmas more strongly than ever before in this, my most difficult Christmas season to date.

Merry Christmas!

~ Jared

Beauty Isn’t Like Sugar

“Beauty isn’t like sugar.”

So says the character of Fiddle in Dianna Wynne Jones’ excellent novella, The Game. Such a simple, poetic statement, but one with the deepest of meanings.

Now, to give some context, this is what leads up to that phrase: the main character of the story, Hayley, has just met a nameless musician who she calls “Fiddle.” Fiddle, it turns out, is able to traverse the Mythosphere, a sort of extra layer of reality that most people can’t see. The simplest way to explain it is probably to say that the Earth is like a loose, round basket, and the Mythosphere is like a net of fine threads woven between the basket’s gaps. These threads consist of all the myths and legends and stories of humanity, and certain people can see and travel on them. Now, this is Hayley’s first trip into the Mythosphere. She is at first awed by how beautiful and magical it is, and decides that this must be the most beautiful place in existence. Hayley and Fiddle meet a young boy in the forest, who is training a pack of h0unds. The boy and his dogs are happy and cheerful and in love with life. They seem innocent and kind, just another part of the Mythosphere’s beauty. But Hayley and Fiddle eventually make it to another strand in the Mythosphere, one in which several years have passed for the boy. Now, his dogs are hunting him. He has angered a goddess, and her punishment is for the boy to be hunted down and devoured by his own pets. Hayley is, naturally, horrified, and says that she thought the Mythosphere was beautiful. Fiddle’s response: “Beauty isn’t like sugar.”

This struck quite a chord in me. I wished very badly that it had been my character who said that line! I’ve never seen this simple truth stated so plainly, yet poetically–the truth that Beauty is not just the things that look, sound, smell, or taste nice. The truth that real Beauty is deeper, stranger, and more powerful than anyone can ever know. The truth that Beauty is often as sharp as pain, as terrifying as the crushing depths of the sea, as incomprehensible as the inner workings of the Sun. It is, in fact, ugliness itself which makes real Beauty stand out so strongly. Beauty ultimately triumphs over ugliness, because it uses the ugliness to display its own power. There is nearly always something among the ugliness to make it beautiful in some way or another, which means that there are very few–if any–things which are truly not beautiful.

However, there is a lie about beauty that is very prominent in modern culture. The lie is that beauty is like sugar. That beauty is only those things kind, sweet, and attractive. You see it every day in the things that are glorified by society. But is it not true that many of the most beautiful stories have, at their hearts, a deep sadness and melancholy? An evil which stands strong in contrast to the beauty brought about through their endings? And is it not true that some of the most beautiful manifestations of nature–volcanoes and great storms–are not also some of the most deadly?

To sum up: beauty isn’t like sugar. That’s the best way to say it.

Gosh, all my posts are so serious… I never come up with good ideas for light-hearted, amusing ones. :P

~ Jared