Sunday, December 18, 2011

Same Time Next Christmas

every year, the Boston Cecilia gives a christmas concert at the church near my apartment.  it's  always beautiful, focusing on classical music that involves the christmas story.  rudolf never pokes his crimson nose into this event.  i have gone there every december since i discovered it in 2006.  this afternoon's concert was, if anything, more beautiful than all the rest. britten, berlioz, bruckner [and some whose names don't begin with 'b'--i just noticed that].  the first year i'd gone i had no idea what it would be like, but it was cheap, christmas-related, and 2 short blocks away.

but to be honest,  my major reason for returning annually hasn't been the music itself, though that always makes it  more than worthwhile.  it's this doll.  i had never--and still have never--seen anything quite like him.   a ragdoll not of baby jesus, but of the adult jesus, the one who preaches, is brutally executed, and rises from the grave.  the first time i saw the doll, sitting on the bench in the last row near  the side entrance, i thought he was odd--and then, as if through no will of my own, i walked over and sat down next to him. i felt ridiculous--mommy, look at the big lady with the ragdoll!--but i couldn't move.  i tried to look nonchalant, like i'd just happened to sit next to this funky doll and barely knew it was there.  i went home and wrote a poem about him. then i came back the next day with my camera and took a picture.

the next year, i still felt self-conscious, but there was no question in my mind. if i could find ragdoll jesus i was sitting with him.  by the third year i'd ceased being self-conscious, and today i sat with my arm around him.  i wonder each year if he'll still be there, and before i sit, i look for him.  he's a toy for children, and he's always placed near the other toys--but only one year was he actually among the toys.  someone who arranges the place for the christmas concert obviously appreciates him as much as i do.  yet each time i walk toward the church for the concert, i wonder if he'll still be there.  will some vile child have torn the doll? or some greedy adult stolen it for their own christmas decorating?  so far, not.  he always seems a bit disheveled, but that's fine--i straighten his jacket and brush the hair away from his eyes.

  it occured to me tonight that it would be easy to steal the ragdoll. but i wouldn't do that, and not just because stealing toys at christmas is a pretty rotten thing to do, or it would be embarrassing to get caught.  it's not even a temptation.  the jesus doll belongs to me only for two hours, in this church, once a year. he would never live comfortably in my home.

it's hard to explain why this toy moves me so much.  i grew up catholic, and have always maintained a small affection for the Baby Jesus, the jesus of the christmas story, born to bring love and goodness into a sad, sorry world.  grownup jesus, on the other hand, has little claim on my heart.  he said some wonderful things, and has been misused by zealots who seem to ignore the wisdom and decency of their god, while acting with the viciousness of his crucifiers. so i respect this jesus, without love.  but let's face it, he was a bit pompous [you would be too, if you believed you were god].  he tells martha not to guilt-trip mary into doing some of the housework, but doesn't offer any help himself.   he forgives, and saves the life of, the woman caught in adultery--'let he who is without sin cast the first stone'--which is great as a trick to save her, but which also presupposes that she had indeed done something wrong. i always thought you couldn't know that unless you knew the whole story of the marriage.  maybe she was forced to marry this guy she couldn't stand, and every night with him was a rape, and then she met someone else,  kind and gentle.....whatever.  that sad-eyed, white gowned, handsome fellow of the endless pictures i grew up with just doesn't get to me.

but this jesus--this floppy ragdoll of a jesus--somehow captures the decency and wisdom of the man, along with the trust and vulnerability of the baby.  i think that's the reason i love  him, but i can't be sure.  logic is logic, emotion emotion.  so there it is.

i've seen a lot of jesus icons in 67 years---the sappy holy-picture jesus of my catholic youth, the child in his mother's lap in the pieta; i've stared in prepared awe at the sistine chapel ceiling.  great works of art, doubtless inspired by great faith.  i'm always glad to see them and take in what they offer me. but i've never wanted to cuddle them or make sure they're not too cold, to brush their hair from their faces, pull their jackets around them.  this toy, however--this silly, charming toy--speaks to me, speaks past the dogma and ritual and all the things i dislike in christianity, and gets to the place in my soul and mind that experiences something of the awe of faith, not faith in the story of the god-man who must be honored for his death, but in eternity, and in the never fulfilled but always possible vision of redemption.  


Jim said...

Love it! Beautiful, and well-said.

And, if you'll accept it from a believer, with all sincerity - Merry Christmas! I am glad we found each other's blogs this year. :)

karen lindsey said...

jim, thank you!

and merry, merry christmas to you too! i am also glad we found each other's blogs. you're intelligent, fun, and the kind of christian that reminds me it ain't all bad! you see [or can if you want] my xmas card/poem this year, but i'll send you if i can attach it a copy of the first jesus ragdoll poem, b/c i think you'll like it. actually it's pretty much the same as the prose piece here....actually, no way i can see here to attach something so i'll try to send it to your blog, and if i can't work that out i'll just post it newly on my blog. hope you see this........

Jim said...

Are you on Facebook? I'm there, pretty easy to find (I'm the Jim Lehmer in Jefferson City, MO). Otherwise just take my above two names, put a period between them and that's me on Gmail).

Baysage said...

Just now getting to this post, days after Christmas. I trust you had a wonderful one. I wish for you and yours great blessings for the new year.

Personally, though I share most of your distrust and distress with the institutional Catholic church, I do think you are being a bit harsh on the grown-up Jesus. The gospels present us with four Jesuses really. And the originals were worked over by editors before coming to us in the form we have them. A little elementary Christology reminds us that we don't really know much about the flesh-and-blood Jesus. All we know about his life are in the gospels, the first of which was written about 35 years after his death and the last about 65-70 years afterwards.

I doubt seriously that he ever thought of himself as God, much less say any of the words that evangelists like John put in his mouth. Scholars have been able by close textual analysis to determine what words put in Jesus's mouth by the evangelists were likely actually His. That would be like less than 20 percent.

But what we can puzzle out is that this was an extraordinary man who always knew at every second who he was, a child of God. And likewise everyone else had the same father, too, everybody else was a child of God. And thus entitled to respect and yes, love, for that reason and that reason alone. The key to the woman caught in adultery is not the fantastic possibilities you imagine her circumstances to be by way of mitigation for her "sin". The story is not about her circumstances, albeit suborning adultery even today is not something that's done as a matter of course, but rather that Jesus is totally counter-cultural in this instance, as in so many others when he confronted the religious authorities and practices of his time. He actually =empowers= this woman by refusing to condemn her. And he stands absolutely opposed to the strictures of the religion. Not to mention its blustery adherents. I always thought this was one of the most beautiful stories in the Scriptures.

Your story of the rag doll Jesus is touching, and the poem about him even more so. But I would observe that it's easy to snuggle with the Christmas infant, much harder to grapple with what the grown-up Jesus means, especially after we clear out all the dogmatic and doctrinal baggage that always accompanies him.

All this requires much more time and space than we've got. In the meantime, you've said it: logic is logic, emotion, emotion.

karen lindsey said...

your points are good, but i would add that 'jesus' is many things to many people, and the one i grew up with was the catholic school one, taken from their own ghastly view of him. the historical person is fascinating, from what can be known of him; i've been reading a book re mary magdeline, the gnostics, etc...but the mythical jesus is something else, and the myth i inherited wasn't even directly from the bible, though i've read a fair amount of it since. that of course is what informed both my poem and essay, and the jesus-doll has given me yet another myth of the combined figure....which has been a lovely gift.

have a happy and healthy new year!

Baysage said...

Same Jesus I grew up with. Jesus son of God/savior is a construct of 4th and 5th century theology based in Greek philosophy. Which of course, is why he's not relevant to our age. I still consider myself his follower, though I'm not associated with any religion at the present.