Tag Archives: existence

Broken Baby Jesus

by Howard Hain

(Note: This post was originally published on December 24, 2011.)

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We have not put up a tree in years.

For nearly a decade we have been moving—no longer than two years in any one house and no less than ten different not-so-humble abodes. Between and during the moves we were very much engaged with the world. A seemingly endless movable beast.

This December marks one year in our current house. I am happy to say it is our home. The Lord has blessed us with great peace. And with that peace comes a tree. A simple, well-shaped tree. Fittingly, a dear friend offered it to us as a gift.

Francesca could not be more ready to be initiated into the act of trimming. Before the tree arrived, her two-year-old fingers pointed out every tree, artificial or real, that graced the pages of a holiday flyer or the commercial floor of a Rite Aid or Dollar Store.

Up the stairs came the evergreen, into the old stand that has been in storage since my father last used it several decades ago. I cut off the mesh and out popped the branches.

We hung the lights and old glass ornaments that my mother-in-law washed a few days before.

The main attraction for Francesca was the Nativity.

Not since St. Francis of Assisi assembled the first Nativity in Greccio in 1223, has there been such admiration for each and every witness who Our Lord assembled to adore His Son that first Christmas two millennia ago. Francesca kissed and hugged every shepherd, sheep, donkey, angel, and king. Most of all she adored the Holy family, calling Mary and Joseph, Ma-ma and Da-da, respectively. And Jesus, He was simply called: “ba-be.”

She carried them around the apartment. I did not want to ruin her fun, but they are ceramic. I explained a few times to be very careful.

“Gentle, Francesca…gentle…”, I harked a host of times.

Boom. To the wood floor went the shepherd. Amazing, grace held him intact. I took that as a great sign to put an end to her carrying the animals, angels and representatives of mankind.

I was fixing my coffee when I turned to see Francesca with Baby Jesus in her tiny hands. But He is so small, so tiny, what harm could come from holding Him? So I let her get away with carrying the Savior.

As I stirred my spoon Christ crashed to the floor, the tile floor. Francesca immediately looked at me, as if expecting all hell to break loose. I think I sighed but that was about all. It is Christmas, right? And it is, after all, only a ceramic figure purchased at Target.

After assuring Francesca not to worry and guiding her toward a few coloring books in the living room, I bent down to retrieve the broken Christ.

———

St. Francis was told by a Crucifix in an old abandoned chapel: “Restore my Church.”

In my small one-bedroom apartment, I found Baby Christ, broken into exactly three: The Head, the Torso, and the Crossed Legs.

“Restore the Trinity,” was spoken to me.

———

For half of my forty years I can honestly say I have tried to pursue Truth, wherever it lie. In philosophy, in scripture, in literature, in art, in nature, in history…

Now, the entire Gospel of Christ lie naked on my kitchen floor.

We separate, we distinguish, we categorize, we breakdown. The Fall of Adam was a fall into denomination.

Christ’s body is One. His Church cannot be broken. Only mere men can get things so wrong.

I think of the great “Angelic Doctor” of the Church, St. Thomas Aquinas, who after spending a lifetime in unparalleled pursuit of human understanding, said after glimpsing a vision of what Our Lord has in store for those who love God:

“All that I have written seems like straw compared to what has now been revealed to me.”

Yes… “straw”…my brother Thomas…merely straw. Straw that lines the manger within which Our Savior is laid bare.

———

It is tradition to leave the crib empty until Christmas morning. Only then do we place the figurative baby Jesus into the scene, after all until that moment he was not yet brought forth from Mother Mary’s womb.

This Christmas morning I will glue together a Broken Baby Christ. The Head, the Torso, and the Crossed Legs will again be One.

Like the world after the birth of Christ, I will never be the same.

For what has now been revealed to me, no fall can break apart.


 

Howard Hain is a contemplative layman, husband, and father. He blogs at http://www.howardhain.com

 

Communion with Saints

by Howard Hain

 

A man named Paul lives in my home.

He’s an excellent house guest.

He never imposes.

He’s never and always alone.

My daughter and I talk of him often.

He brings wisdom to our kitchen table.

I’m not exactly sure when he moved in.

But it wasn’t so long ago.

Before and with him there are others.

Theresa, Francis, Bruno, John…just to name a few.

But Paul for some reason never seems to leave.

The others, they kind of come and go.

Paul on the other hand always hangs around.

But then again, I could say the same about the rest.

Is it cliché to say it’s a mystery?


 

Posture of Prayer

by Howard Hain
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El Greco, “St. Dominic Praying”, c. 1588

Sometimes just showing up is all we can do.

To put ourselves in position to pray and worship—at least physically, even if we just cannot seem to get there spiritually—is an act of prayer and worship in itself. And quite often, it is the best we have to offer.

By confessing our aridity through physical obedience alone, we approach God’s altar with humility, for we come to God in our “nothingness”.

The bowing of head, the placement of knees, and the closing of eyes return us to the dark warmth of the womb. It is no coincidence that the posture of prayer and the fetal position bear great semblance.

It is in the womb that we are closest to God, furthest from the corruption of the world, and possess the least of what our “flesh” considers of value—our “brilliant” ideas, our “magnificent” plans, our “heroic” acts—our self-aggrandizement.

It is in the womb that we find ourselves in complete dependence. We receive all we need without knowing, without speaking, without cost.

In that sense, being in the womb is much the same as being in the world—for in the world we are still completely dependent—it is just that without the obvious reminder of the umbilical cord, we so easily forget our total and complete dependence on God, our Creator, our Sustainer, and our Ultimate End.

Hence we find ourselves “knowing,” “telling,” and “paying a price.” When in reality, the only thing that we can somewhat even come close to taking credit for is being physically present to receive His Word, His Wisdom, and His Will. All of which come free of charge, His Son having already paid the price.

———

“Lord, let me place my knees to the earth. Let me feel the foot of the cross against the caps of my knees. Let me close my eyes and bow my head. Let my brow lay upon your bloodied feet. Let me humbly raise my eyes to gaze upon your battered body. Oh my Lord and my God, let your blood and water rain down upon me.”

Amen.


 

Howard Hain is a contemplative layman, husband, and father. He blogs at http://www.howardhain.com

Follow Howard on Twitter @HowardDHain

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Morning Thoughts: Remembrance of Things Past

by Howard Hain

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“…forgetting the past and pushing on to what is ahead…”

—Philippians 3:13


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What is the past? A remembrance of things past. Of what has been. Of what is not now. Of what is no longer today.

What is re-membering? A putting back together of what once was. Of what was once whole. Complete. United. Unified. A re-attachment of “bodily” members currently detached. A body made whole, brought back into health. It is healing. It is “being” fulfilled.

What is to forget? The act of properly re-membering. Beyond elimination. Beyond denial. It is re-valuation. It is re-deeming. Of value. A re-establishment of worth. An instance of humanity made universality worthy once more.

What is worthy? What has value? The future lived presently. Proper hope brought into active being. Knowing ‘now’ is a perpetual tomorrow, lived fully today.

It is tomorrow’s air breathed as we currently speak.

A human being living in heaven.

A human being “knowing” heaven was once, is now, and will be forever.

Worthy is a person “forgetting the past and pushing on to what is ahead…”


 

Praise be Incarnate Wisdom. Now and forever.

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Morning Thoughts: A Grain of Salt

 

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Winslow Homer, “Snap the Whip”, 1872, (The Met)

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Lord, I don’t want to be witty, or smart, or cute.

I don’t want to be clever, or interesting, or different.

I don’t want to be important.

One of a kind.

I don’t want to want to be anything.

You were.

You are.

You will be.

“Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.”

———

A few days ago my daughter was eating a piece of toast for breakfast. It was a nice piece of toast, I prepared it my myself. Golden brown. A good amount of very good olive oil, from a little can my sister-in-law gifted us after a trip to Portugal. And I cracked some sea salt. Beautiful little crystals atop virgin oil upon a bed of grain and wheat, all held aloft by a bit of yeast.

She was eating away. Then I heard a shriek. It seems a little stink bug landed on the edge of her plate. Well, that was the end of breakfast.

Like a little dinosaur. I’m pretty sure they’re harmless. Apparently, they’re not from the United States. It seems they’ve recently made their way over from China. They’re immigrants, if you will. Or perhaps ‘missionaries’ is a better way to put it, at least from the stink bug’s perspective.

They’ve got a job after all, like the rest of us. I doubt they complain though. I also doubt that the first little guy to make his way across the great ocean to arrive at our shores had any idea he was discovering a whole new world. The Christopher Columbus of stink bugs. But there’s no statue. No holiday. No day off. No big sale at Macy’s honoring his (or her) accomplishment.

Nonetheless, his relative was in my home the other day and landed on my daughter’s plate, leaving me wondering if she had eaten enough, and also somewhat worried she wouldn’t have enough energy to make it through the first half of the day.

She did. The day went on. The bug was removed. As far as my daughter’s relationship with stink bugs specifically or with insects in general, we’ll just have to wait and see.

———

I don’t know why that little bug is on my mind. I guess I admire him. His obedience.

God created that little bug, both his kind and him individually. I am therefore to love him:

Love God in all His creation. Love all of God’s creation for His sake.

In love with a bug.

Hey, who knows?

———

I’m having fun. Life is wonderful. If only we could all just play. All day. No homework. No tests. No goals of earning admittance.

I laugh. I smile. I think again. My little girl. All children. It’s amazing what they say. What the Holy Spirit speaks through living innocence:

“I want to fall into the Sun…and go deep, deep, deep…and the clouds will tickle me…”

———

When parents speak of the little things they’re children say, I imagine most listeners take it with a grain of salt.

But parents know what they’ve heard, spoken or not.

Surely God knows.

After all, He’s a parent too.

And he wants us to play.

Stink bugs and all.


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—Howard Hain

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http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/11140

From the website of the Metropolitan Museum of Art:

Snap the Whip

Artist: Winslow Homer (American, Boston, Massachusetts 1836–1910 Prouts Neck, Maine) Date: 1872
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“In the years after America’s brutal Civil War (1861-65), children—as embodiments of innocence and the promise of America’s future—became a popular artistic subject. Snap the Whip, one of Homer’s most beloved works, evoked nostalgia for the nation’s agrarian past as the population shifted to cities, and the little red schoolhouse faded from memory. Released from their lessons, the exuberant bare-footed boys engage in a spirited game of snap the whip, which required teamwork, strength, and calculation—all important skills for a reuniting country…”

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Friday Thoughts: Being qua Being


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Learn from the way the wild flowers grow.

—Matthew 6:28


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Does a flower make pronouncements? Does it define itself? Does it box itself in with titles, names, and distinctions?

And yet, “not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of these.” (Matthew 6:29)

———

A flower simply exists.

And its existence glorifies God.

There is no need for it to do more.

By its very existence it magnifies what cannot be further magnified: God’s Presence, God’s Glory, God’s Beauty…

———

“I’m a flower.”

“I’m a rose.”

“Look at me!”

Statements such as these we shall never hear.

Flowers are divinely indifferent to the world’s definitions and distinctions, to its approval and applause.

After all, it’s a person who receives the medal at an orchid show, and not the flower herself. No, her finely-placed petals would only be weighed down by such metallic-based ribbons.

What a gift it is to simply exist.

———

Flowers don’t cling to seasonal life.

When it’s time to go, they gracefully drop their heads and lose their pedals.

Never has there existed a man as poor as a flower.

Never has mankind so possessed the richness of fleeting, transitory, and momentary life.

It’s their genius to instinctively believe that death leads to new abundant life.

———

Flowers graciously receive:

Ladybugs, drops of dew. Beams of light, the relief of shade.

Flowers give and receive as if not a single thing has ever been made by man.

They welcome sun as well as rain.

They never cry over fallen fruit or a stolen piece of pollen.

They quietly applaud instead, rejoicing that their little ones have the opportunity to travel abroad—perhaps even the chance to help nurture a neighbor.

———

A flower, perhaps most of all, knows it place.

It never wishes to be bigger or thinner…greener or higher…it never dreams of being more like a tree.

A flower’s blessing is simplicity beyond you and me.

———

Christ is a flower.

He is the one true perfect eternal flower, through whom all other flowers partake, toward whom all other flowers reach.

Christ is a flower. His ways are not our own. He simply exists. Bowing His head. Dropping pedals. Feeding hungry bees. Giving and receiving. His identity is crucified—leaving nothing behind but being “qua” being.


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If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?

—Matthew 6:30


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—Howard Hain
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(Dedicated to Brother Jim, a man who knew how to simply exist.)

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