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.“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.