To Know With the Heart
It just comes. We don't even ask for it. During Advent, it increases. We notice that other people have it, too. We call it the “Christmas Spirit,” that warm and gentle affect that comes upon us, envelops us, around this time of year.
Not too long ago, I attended a lecture, in which the speaker (on video) briefly addressed the different charisms of Religious Orders. He pointed out that each group brings to the world a unique wisdom of God. For example, with St. Francis of Assisi , it was the deep and certain poverty of God within us that brings about an unsurpassed joy, richness and inner freedom. St. Benedict brought to the world many different wisdoms, one being that of monastic peace and inner harmony and the effect these have on the human spirit. Being a Dominican himself, Fr. Timothy Radcliffe pointed out that, for Dominicans, the wisdom they bring to the world is that of the unknowable God. This was the first time I had heard it said so clearly that God is unknowable.
John McKenzie, in his Dictionary of the Bible , tells us that the Israelites of old only “knew” with their heart. Their language did not even have a word, as we do in English, conveying the idea of “knowing” with the mind or intellect. For them, to know was to experience. They believed that, gradually, experience leads to acceptance, and that acceptance leads to action. Furthermore, for the Israelite, to know was to have a felt experience. In reading this, I realized that Christmas is an affair of the heart. That's why we are visited with the Christmas spirit at this time of year. Although we cannot know God as such, we can experience God, (even God's absence when that happens.) All of this is difficult to put into words. Actually, the same kind of phenomenon happens with other people. We experience them, and the experience leads to relationship. The beautiful thing about all this is that God also desires to have a felt experience of us. This is what happens at Christmas.
Usually at Christmastime, we are not even aware that the felt experience of being known by God is upon us. However, because of this, most of us do find it easier to love at this time. As Dante says, “Here comes a Love that will make all our other loves possible.” And, because of this Love, we get drawn into relationship. What is more, the Christmas spirit has a gentle strength. It seems to pervade the most unlikely places.
I recall that some years ago, for some strange reason, on December 24, I had to take the monastery car in to have it repaired. It was even difficult to find a place that was open for this kind of thing. Finally, I found one. It was on Middle Road . A rough and tumble sort of fellow was on deck to take care of my difficulty. All the while that he was working, I found myself thinking: “Why in the world is this happening the day before Christmas?” As I prepared to write out the check, the man looked me straight in the eye and said, “No charge. It's Christmas!” I couldn't believe it. I think of this story every Christmas.
Sister Mary Jo Loebig, O.C.D.