And here we remember that in the story of the birth of Jesus, as in every folktale, mythic story, and dream, every single detail is important, every single detail asks be noticed, to be integrated. Though I don’t identify as a Christian, I will not today discount this powerful story, even though at present those in power, and many of those who pretend to understand it, do not, or if they do they ignore it in order to enrich themselves at the expense, the suffering, of the poor, and to persecute where they are asked to love, and to judge where they are asked to embrace. We will, instead, treat this story as we treat all the beautiful stories that have come down to us, like dreams, entered the Collective Unconscious, so that we may understand the depth of the world and our purpose here.
And so what do we have in this story? A child is born in an occupied country, far from home, and travelling to pay taxes to the already very wealthy, taxes that were understood at the time to be unjust to the poor and enhancing of the rich, much as we are seeing with yesterday’s signing of the cruel tax law that will cause so much suffering to all but the very wealthy. This is no accident, this setting. Every detail is important; the meaning is clear.
This is child is born without real shelter; born close to nature, among the animals and the elements, in the dark of night, to a not-prosperous man and woman, who were refused shelter when they sought it, and were sent out in the cold, even as Mary was ready to give birth. Every detail is important; the meaning is clear.
This child is *not* born to a king and queen, not born to a Caesar, not born to a Roman magistrate or a senator or a wealthy house. And further, this child is a *newborn baby*. Nothing on Earth is more vulnerable than a newborn baby. And the next closest vulnerable thing is the mother who has just birthed him. What does imbuing such vulnerability with so much power communicate to us about the nature of *true* power? About what our life as humans means? About what we’re meant to attend to? Every detail is important; the meaning is clear.
And perhaps we can understand the virgin birth in the way we would understand such a thing in a dream: What does it symbolize? Perhaps one way to interpret it is this: The world in that time and place, this occupied country, run by greedy, cruel men. And here is a young woman untouched by any of them. Therefore, she is untouched by them, those patriarchs, that patriarchy, that power structure. Yes, there is a man there, protecting her. But in the cosmology of the universe, and within our internal systems that dreams and myths are partly about, there must be balance, between light and dark, masculine and feminine, so yes, there is a man. But his role is limited. And so, yes, there is this woman doing this remarkable thing, giving birth in the cold outdoors without help, and then the most innocent and vulnerable thing is here to change the world: a newborn baby. Outside the patriarchy, outside the monied and the cruel. Every detail is important; the meaning is clear.
Today it occurs to me that this story could be a comfort to our exiled parts, the aspects of ourselves that we have tried to put away and deny, the parts of our experience that we persecute ourselves for as we roam the world trapped in a trance of our own self-judgement, the illusion that we cannot be valuable unless we are producing, filled with energy and joy all the time, as we talk meanly to ourselves simply because we have suffering and pain. The dominant culture can tell us all it wants to that we should not have suffering and pain, that we should not be poor or struggling, that we should not feel out in the cold and unloved, ever, but the dominant culture is the occupier, and those thoughts are the Roman Army, and they are trying to masacre the innocents and it’s our job to stand before them, protect the children, and point them toward the door. We will be afraid. We will be imperfect. But we will not become the one who cannot see the star that points to way to truth. We will never become that. This story is the light and the darkness. We can imagine it as if it were our own dream. “I dreamed I gave birth in a barn, that everywhere I’d gone I was turned away, and that what little I had was being taken by forces more powerful than me. Then there was this evil force that was trying to kill my baby, and it was looking for him, and it started killing all the babies like mine it could find, and there was so much suffering, and it was all by fault because I had this baby! But there was also this incredible start that came above our heads, and these beautiful foreign kings, of all races and colors, came and brought us gifts, and we were cold, but the child glowed so much that all was well, for a while, even though there was great danger and I knew he would die young.” It is not hard to imagine having such a dream, if you are a dreamer. And if you’ve worked with another dreamer, who has helped you with your dreams, you know where this would go. Every detail is important; the meaning is clear.
Nothing in this story, as it continues past the moment of the birth, contradicts the meaning apparent in the birth story, itself. There is great suffering and persecution. There is Jesus roaming homeless, hanging with the outcast and the persecuted and exploited. There is Jesus refusing wealth. There is Jesus telling people that women who are menstruating are not “unclean,” and that men need to back off from persecuting women for having sex when they themselves are doing that all the time. There is Jesus challenging the power of the state and refusing to conform to its demands. There is Jesus being executed for challenging the power of the state, and the corruption of the religion. Every detail is important; the meaning is clear.
On this day, we have a story. Yes, it has itself been colonized by assholes and sociopaths and greedy fucks. But they don’t own it. They don’t own it any more than the Nazis own the great, old, beautiful Germanic and Norse symbols and practices. Refusing the give it over to them is itself an act of resistance. We shall keep our dreams. We shall protect the innocents. We shall stand in the light of the Great Star at the Door of Winter and sing our songs of love.
Margaret Howard, MFA, LCSW
I am a psychotherapist, gardener, writer, mother, grandmother, and dreamer.
Cover image: Karl Friedrich Schinkel, Queen of the Night, from the stage set for Mozart's Magic Flute