Wednesday, December 23, 2009

the face of Christmas

Giving thought to Christmas, Christian writer and Franciscan cleric Richard Rohr wrote, “God’s revelations are always pointed, concrete, and specific. They are not a Platonic world of ideas and theories about which you can be right or wrong, or observe from a distance. Divine Revelation is not something you measure or critique, but Someone you meet!”

I prefer meeting people face-to-face. There is something paradoxically private and yet public about our faces. I’ve come to believe that Christmas has a face.

I’ve seen the face of Christmas in the faces of rural Nicaraguans waiting patiently during a food crisis when the coffee market collapsed in 2001. People were suffering from level-3 malnutrition. If they were fearful and angry, it never showed on their faces as they waited for a ten-pound sack of food that would only last a few days. Most recently I saw the face of Christmas again this year at the Crosslines Christmas Toystore.

Hundreds came on a freezing cold day knowing they would likely be waiting outside, so most were dressed in their warmest, which for some wasn’t much more than a jacket with a hood. Teeth chattering, breath visible in the cold, some bouncing up and down in place to generate some body heat, some huddled together among people they knew, but most were there alone. They came to provide a Christmas for their children that they weren’t able to give them on their own.

Sitting on a concrete step, a face comes in view, a woman’s face without makeup, framed by earmuffs, exposed and expressive because of exposure. Her face seemed to conceal a dignified suffering, concealing deep and secret wounds and yet transparent and open, and opening beyond my expectations just because I asked her, “what number do you have?” Another face pulled me in, her angular jaw jumping up and down intermittently in the cold, her lips chapped and cracking, her eyes downcast and dark and beautiful. The little neon-pink piece of paper in her hand had a number printed on it that wouldn’t be called for more than an hour, but she would endure the cold, not willing to risk missing the moment when her turn would come to make Christmas happen for her children. “My oldest is 4,” she said with a quivering chin, “and he believes in Santa Clause.” Her chin, nose and cheekbones were a color I’ve seen sometimes in the sky at sunrise.

The face of Christmas is a noble, vulnerable, patient, concealing yet revealing human face. I wish for eyes to see this face more. Since my recent Crosslines Christmas Toystore experience, I’ve been experimenting a little. I’m imagining each face I see as a face that is waiting, waiting for all their worth in the freezing cold, clutching a little pink piece of paper. Waiting to be welcomed out of the cold into the warm, and Christmas is about to happen.