The Numinous Nativity

Just for fun on the fifth day of Christmas, I spend some time browsing through pictures of past Christmases and am soon flooded with a myriad of childhood memories. Having been raised in Minnesota, there were many remembrances of snowy afternoon sledding and skating on outdoor rinks in the brisk winter air.  I also remember how every year between Christmas and New Year’s,  my mother would propose that the family go and make a   visit to the three  local Catholic churches to pray in front of the Nativity scenes. There were rarely any protests as far as I recollect. I actually relished the quiet sanctuary of these three distinct places that smelled of candle wax and incense.  A sense of wonder at the numinous (a word that means mystical or supernatural) would transport me to another realm as we knelt and gazed at the statues. My favorite, of course, was always the one displayed in my home parish, Immaculate Conception (pictured here). This confounding story of how God chose to enter into our existence always intrigued and baffled me. There was just something so earthy about it – the hay, the animals, the shepherds leaving their flocks to find them. And yet, the way Mary and Joseph beheld the Christchild, and the knowing look on his face as he gazed up at them, made me realize that this was anything but ordinary. These early encounters set me on a path that I could have never fathomed then – forever seeking and growing in an understanding of what it truly means to “put skin on God.” More than a child’s fantasy with “Silent Night” playing in the background, the symbolic depth of the story continues to be revealed each year as I ponder the great mystery at the heart of Christianity. Returning in memory to what formed my faith so many years ago continues to  build and create the inner sanctuary, complete with these blazing icons that both plant me in the present and prepare me for the future.