The Holy Birthing

If Christmas is about a birthday, and the Holy birthday of the Christ child, what is it that is trying to be born in the repeating of this holiday each year? Why do we celebrate birthdays or Christmas? What does the ritual want with us? What is it that is born, again and again – on Christmas and in each new life, or even in each moment of everyday? Perhaps it is symbolic of another ongoing kind of birth – the birth that brings renewal throughout our lifetime as we spiral our way through to another new year.

I ask myself, what is it that is trying to be born now, in me, in you and in the world?

And isn’t is so fitting that Christmas is celebrated between the Solstice, the longest night when the darkness nearly overcomes the light, and the birth of the New Year? Is Christmas then a twilight moment?

“He not busy being born is busy dying.” Bob Dylan

“The decision of the future falls to the soul, depends upon how the soul understands itself, upon its refusal or acceptance of a new birth.” Henry Corbin

I was so struck by Tom Cheetham’s remarks on what is called The Test of the Veil in Sufism and also the coincidence of being at this point in the book on Christmas Eve, that I wanted to share some of his words and quotes by Henry Corbin here with you.

File:Matthijs Maris The Bride, or Novice taking the Veil, c 1887.jpg“Insofar as anything is perceived as determinate and comprehensible, to that degree it is a Veil of the divinity. And yet in truth all things are masks of the infinite, and their being is the gift of God. All things are organs by which God contemplates Himself and are not other than He. To overcome the Test of the Veil requires that we not become trapped in the literal face of any being, that we not idolize it but rather see in it a Face of God.” Tom Cheetham

He is discussing nihilism and confronting it head on. This speaks to a nagging sense that I have had since childhood which perhaps many of us experience. Why be there anything? Have you ever stared out at the vastness of the night sky, or looked at child’s face, struck by awe for what can’t be known or understood and thought to yourself, where and who are we? Why is there anything at all? And more amazing than the fact of our existence, we know we’re here, or somewhere anyway.

“For if God is known and witnessed by an other than Himself, it is because there is such an Other. However, for there to be an Other, there must be this opacity, this darkness of a being that stops at itself, at the non-being of its pretensions, its ignorance, or even its devotions. If he claims to be an Other, he cannot look at God, as God can only be looked at by Himself.
God can only look at a world which is his own gaze, that is his own eyes which look at him from this world. This is why a world which wishes itself other (either by agnosticism or by piety) is not a world that God looks at. Literally, it is a world that God does not look at.
… [And] there must be a world that God does not look at so that Nietzsche’s tragic exclamation of the last century: God is dead can resound and spread in it. Uttered from the West and since then echoed in all consciousnesses, this cry is precisely what, for a Sufi, is experienced as the Supreme Test, the Test of the Veil , and, facing up to this Test, Sufism opens the way precisely for one who wishes to pass through it.” Henry Corbin

In order to pass through the test of the veil, Corbin says we must look to our angel, a divine being that is a face of God. Without the accompaniment of the Angel, we feel abandoned, because we are without a guiding presence which creates a vertical connection curing us of the blindness of literalism, giving us the second sight to see the Face of God in all of creation.

“The paradox of monotheism is equally the paradox of individualism, for the Angel as a Face of God is linked to the soul of whom it is the Twin in a bond of love that is essential for the being of each. Nietzsche’s cry requires a world that God does not look at, a world without His Face, a world that is, without Angels. But in such a world the reality of the person begins to fade. For if God is dead, then so are we.” Henry Corbin

“On the one hand there is the doubt of the intellect, of the philosopher, who, as Corbin says, demands rational proof for realities to which such proof cannot apply. For rational doubt assumes that human reason can cast its net over everything and extend its reach to capture even God. It is this hubris that drives much of modern culture. We are liberated from it if we can take to heart the words attributed to the nineteenth-century British scientist Lord J. B. S. Haldane: “The universe is not only stranger than we suppose , but stranger than we can suppose.” “ Tom Cheetham

Peace on earth, Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday everyone!

Cheetham, Tom (2012-07-03). All the World an Icon: Henry Corbin and the Angelic Function of Beings (p. 220). North Atlantic Books. Kindle Edition.

36 thoughts on “The Holy Birthing

  1. Pingback: The Holy Birthing 2014 | The Ptero Card

    1. Yes, the light shines in us, as in, we too experience the glory of God, according to our capacity and attentiveness (I would say anyway). Our angels have the bigger picture and guide us towards an experience of the divine.

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts and insights here!


  2. Very cool. Twilight Christmas.

    Interesting you bring up the Angel. Jesus is believed to have been embodied by angels in the OT to prefigure Him in the NT, like the angel who shut the mouth of the lions when Daniel was thrown in their den. Jesus Who shut the mouth of hell for those who believe.

    You reminded me of this:

    For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness,
    has shined in our hearts, to give the light
    of the knowledge of the Glory of God
    in the face of Jesus Christ.

    2 Corinthians 4:6.


  3. Debra, this is another one that resonates deeply with me. I was struck and warmed by two parallels with other reading I am doing: one, the notion that God literally does not see the world of illusion- of other, if you will. In the context in which I have read this, the point is made as a powerful one, for while it suggests on the one hand that while we are engaged in idolizing the literal face of this world, we are remote and isolated, it likewise suggests that God’s power is the power to see only Truth. She abides nothing else. And as our connection with God can never truly be severed, and God will never “buy into” our fabrications and falsehoods- there is nothing that may occur in the “literally transpiring world” that could cause Reality to suffer. This is our safety.

    The second point that rang out beautifully in this writing is the notion was the paradox of God and Other. An Other is needed for God to be made manifest, to be made known, to be communicated, and yet the Other cannot be an other for this holy relationship to take on life. The corollary in some other reading I have been doing recently is that God cannot take on being and life, without differentiating Himself into beings such as us, for without relationship, there is no distinction between all and nothing… And yet our task, as you have described, is to not be deceived by the forms that arise in this holy dance. This taking on life, of living within the paradox and passing the test of the veil by seeing the Face of God in all things, strikes me as the living factor that wishes to be born within us during this time (and all times, as you say!).

    Beautiful post. Thank you. Michael


    1. Thank you Michael! Perhaps it won’t be long before it is common place for many of us to taste and believe the fullness of God and restore the harmony between us and see the face of God in all?

      “God cannot take on being and life, without differentiating Himself into beings such as us, for without relationship, there is no distinction between all and nothing…”

      Yes, as many of us do, so does God love to hide, Deus Absconditus.

      Warm wishes to you for the New Year.


    1. The title soulspelunker sounds familiar. I must run across this site at one point.

      He even has a bit on Corbin and Hillman. Pretty cool stuff, although I don’t favor the computer metaphors!

      Thanks Jim!


  4. Such wonderful juicy questions to contemplate by the fire on this night of a high holy holiday for so many. We ask the whys when finding ourselves here as humans and I find my closest answer is always why not?!

    We create all this stuff that is done here as humans and I get left with a feeling that wants to focus on not what is done, but how it is done as being the most important focus for me right now.

    It is funny, but I just got done finding Jesus in my laundry room this week. Wonderful how divinity chooses to spring upon our awareness. Mirror, mirror on the wall…

    Happy days right back at you D!



    1. There’s no better place to find such accompaniment than the laundry. He’s either going to help you pair the socks or hide one, yes?
      Happy fire M! There’s no better place for me to contemplate and enjoy being than a fire.


  5. I wonder if this test of the veil relates to what Campbell refers to as being transparent to the transcendent – seeing beyond the symbol, beyond the image of how you or who you perceive god to be. This idea of the twin, the angel, the daimon if you will gives me something to hang on to, some person, some entity. Since I left christianity behind, with no jesus to pray to, who am I reaching out to in those moments when I am reaching? Is this twin a face of god for me? (and then ultimately a face to see through?)


    1. I think you are spot on here, “being transparent to the transcendent.” seeing beyond the literal, hearing metaphorically in all things, people and places, All the World an Icon.

      I too like the idea of Angel as twin or Daimon. It’s both that person we talk to when no one else is around, and that being we pray to and gives us insights.

      Thank you for sharing those insights here!


  6. I’m reading Carl Jung Right now. He talks about how we have used mass psychology to make the individual morally and spiritually inferior and people don’t have the energy to allow their spirit to be reborn. So I think what we have done is allowed these pseudo-rituals to be Replacements for the psychic being born again that true individuation manifests. Wonderful post. Thanks Debra


    1. I so agree with that Jim. Unfortunately, effective ritual, belief and even curiosity that leads to allowing for a spiritual experience cannot be coerced. But, I think Jung would say that the Unconscious does have a way of interfering with our lives to get our attention, yes?


  7. Another fascinating offering Deb. I read on Julianne’s blog today an explanation about choosing December 24th as Christmas Eve and its relationship with the Solstice and the New Calendar Year.
    I noticed you already read it, but perhaps your readers may enjoy it as well.

    He is discussing nihilism and confronting it head on. This speaks to a nagging sense that I have had since childhood which perhaps many of us experience. Why be there anything? Have you ever stared out at the vastness of the night sky, or looked at child’s face, struck by awe for what can’t be known or understood and thought to yourself, where and who are we? Why is there anything at all?

    I addressed this frightening lingering question a few months ago:
    You did read it and comment, but I thought you may want to revisit it one more.
    This season is bringing up so many questions for me. Still searching for the point of Christmas that millions look forward to, this still eludes my grasp.

    Having said that, I wish you a joyous celebration and a blessed New Year.

    xx Linda


    1. Thanks for the links Linda!

      Trying to write about Christmas, with its overload of associations, disassociations and emotional tones is pretty tough for me.

      Yes, I did read Julianne’s post and made the rounds today on WP absorbing a lot of thoughts on the season.

      Warmest to you Linda and a huge thanks for the reading (I hope you don’t mind me saying so here)


      1. It is comforting to know that I am not alone in y search for truth and meaning about the Christ story and so much more 🙂

        No, I do not mind and hope I assisted you in some small way on your journey




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