We are quite ill at the moment, with some bug that prevents us from sleeping, eating, or even smoking. After a few days of this we are also enjoying hallucinations, to say nothing of chills, fevers & the like. A really impressive bug, with stamina. Classic flu symptoms. It is one of our journalistic principles, from the ‘sixties, generally to avoid writing while hallucinating; & with other distractions of the season we may well desist from Idleposting for the next few days. Alas, we had an inventory of Christmas-related topics. But perhaps the Commentariat may supply our deficiency.
A “Merry” Christmas. The Old English myre, or myrige, meant originally only happy & pleasant, but as we understand, by the 14th century if not before, there was also the connotation of jolly & mirthful. We continue to aver that reactionary, pre-Reformation man eschewed grimness. He was not “happyface,” however. That is a much different thing. He was not “frivolous” in our modern sense, in which we take nothing seriously except our own wants. His sense of play was on a different, & frankly more integral cosmic level. Though of course being human he had appetites, & was entirely capable of evil.
Once upon a time, in England in the early spring, we were riding through Warwickshire. It happened that at this time (around 1975) we owned an art calendar, with spectacular reproductions from a Book of Hours. It was never for the right year: we bought it remaindered. But we sliced off the numbers, & kept it on the wall anyway, changing each month; for it was so beautiful. And as we were driven north towards Warwick Town, through an icy fog that seemed to brush all modernity away, we could construe the old, mediaeval landscapes, & think of the ancient farming activities.
A most extraordinary thing happened. From a single deeply rolling field, the fog had strangely lifted. A farmer was leading a bullock & a plough. It was a scene right out of that Book of Hours. No doubt an eccentric person, the farmer appeared even to be dressed for another century: tunic & cloak, leggings, & an arming cap. Perhaps he was a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism; they were legion then. But no, we hadn’t imagined it, for the driver of our car immediately hit the brakes, & backed up so we could get a better look. It was breathtaking, & so beautiful: this little vignette of old Christendom.
Now, Jesus was born in a manger. He was born into the condition of most men, through most of history; few ever lived in palaces, or even in cities. We make a crèche to remind us of the circumstances. Yet we would be terrified to live like that, in a world without media, malls & shopping, penicillin & painkillers. But our world, which makes room for almost everything else, makes no room for Christ. And we are not happy. We live in sin, & though we do not recognize the cause, sin makes us sad.
Illness & pain are a kind of cure, however. They can return us to that older & simpler condition without any effort on our own part. To be cold & shivering; to be dizzy from lack of food; to lose all pleasure in toys & gadgets; even to look death in the face in our own mirror. One could say too much for suffering, but these days we hardly say enough.
Can that little Jesus talk to our world? To people habituated to hear only what they want to hear? Who would rather tell Christ what he ought to say, than listen? And can one listen anyway to a voice effectively jammed by our myriad “devices”? Perhaps this is why He is heard in Africa, & not here; in Africa where there is so much less in the way.