Thursday, December 15, 2011

O Come, Let Us...Adore Him?

A few weeks ago, an event called Adore took place at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans. It was an 'evangelical' event, in the popular interpretation of such things, a ‘revival’. There were some rousing 'come-to-Jesus' moments which, though exciting in the moment, are pretty much standard at such proceedings. The musician who played is up for a Grammy this year, and played very well, but his appearance is no rarity in southeast Louisiana. Archbishop Aymond too was there, but he seems to be everywhere these days, so I hardly find it possible to judge an event's significance on that account. The decorations were flamboyant. Now, there was something unique about that! The auditorium where the event was being held was your basic, monolithic structure with white walls, a cheap curtain, a four-foot high stage and out-of-date lighting. Most high schools boast about the same. But it had been decorated with cheap Chinese lanterns (the paper kind that come in bright colors and look like oversized bubbles). In contrast, creating a fire hazard of immense proportions, the stage had been covered with candles of all shapes and sizes flickering just inches away from already-hot sound equipment and wooden instruments. A large screen had been placed stage right and caught the projection of hymns and bible verses as they flashed up on the monitor. In the back, there were a series of booths selling 'Jesus glamour gear' (as one theology major so shrewdly put it). All in all, it was a comical display of the type of devotion that our pluralistic and consumerist society tries to offer.

And into the middle of this strange and brave new temple, the Archbishop brought in the Blessed Sacrament for adoration. The seminarians who coordinated this section of the evening had chosen to take a pre-Vatican II approach by dressing his Excellency in gold vestments and flanking the monstrance with two censures. As he walked up the aisle, the congregation sang ancient hymns put to modern music. Then, after much awkward fumbling, the Lord of the Universe was precariously placed on what appeared to be a tall wooden stool. Here was Jesus, true God and true man, surrounded by paper lanterns, a dangerous amount of candles, a rock band in blue jeans, a projection screen the size of an Cadillac, a gilded epicopus chanting prayers and diakoniae swinging incense to and fro, wafting sweet-smelling smoke through out the room as God stood on a womblely wooden stand. We Catholics claim that the small host in the center of it all is God. And this is the welcome prepared! What absolute nonsense, right? Right!?

I do not know. How scandalous is this coming in comparison to the welcome He received at that first Christmas? At least there was room in the inn this time, even if the inn looked more like a Chinese restaurant than a Church. My purpose here is not to reflect on aesthetics or ecclesiology. I care not a hoot whether you're against the progressives or the traditionalists, whether you believe in evangelical youth ministry or in quiet personal promulgation of the faith. What I would like you to do is just think for a moment: if what the Church teaches about transubstantiation it true, then God was there. In His omniscience, He chose to be there. What was He doing? Were I Him (oh dear Lord, how close I come to blasphemy!), I would have been laughing my most Holy Face off. But that's not what He did. Just as He cried like a babe in the manger, I believe there was more compassion to His coming into that room than irony or indignation. Which brings me to the point of all this: what kind of God are we dealing with? What kind of King so enters the womb and allows Himself to be so welcomed into the room? You see, I can no longer realistically hope to find God. Life has taught me that I can't journey to heaven. So my only hope is that heaven would travel to me. And if He did come down to love us, it would have to be a two way street. He would half to meet us half way. And to save us poor, that means entering a stable, halfway house of sorts, once He was locked out of the 'free house' (or Inn). Our culture has tried covering this mystery of Christmas with cellophane and sale ads, but it just won't do! Frosty's death and rebirth is nothing compared to His! Jingle Bells and Deck the Halls and Santa Baby are just plain boring in comparison to a God who is carried in a gold monstrance and sits on wooden stool on a stage covered in fire, all to let us imitate the hosts of heaven. What need I of more Christmas specials? What could be more special education than a God who sits among Chinese lanterns, all so that He can be with me? Or lie naked and shivering in a stable (or on a cross for that matter...) just so that my nakedness and shivering may cease. I'm sorry: I just don't understand all this and, until I do, there will be much more reflecting, much more writing, much more singing and much much more silence on this subject.

1 comment:

Thomas B. said...

What an interesting account, Daniel. Thank you for the thought-provoking account. It DOES boggle and utterly confound the poor human mind.