The pace of our walks has become much slower this past year. It was never especially fast to begin with as there is the need to stop at every tree, every sign and lamppost, every hydrant, and smell, to take in, perceive, all that is going on in the neighbourhood, in the wider world—the wider world that is, if you are a dog. Prince is keeping an eye on things, or nose as it is.
Prince is my dog, a Weimaraner, and he is growing old. Often his gate is more of a saunter than the gallop he used to have as now his hips are hampered by arthritis, his back arched or sagging in a posture that is most comfortable for him, his hind legs not entirely rising as much as they ought causing the nails of his back feet to wear more quickly than the front ones. And his hearing has mostly gone—that happened a few years ago—which impacts his encounters with others, dogs and people. They may call to him, speak to him, bark at him, but he’s more apt to ignore or not realize their presence. His eating habits have changed, as have “going potty.” And this has brought other challenges.
He sleeps beside me, and as is his custom—always has been his way—he needs to be touching, leaning into me. Thus, our sleep has changed as he needs to more often reposition himself. He does that dog-circling thing one way, then the other, then a very slow motion plop onto my side. His body is aging.
Let me add, it’s not all “going downhill” however. Mention and motion the possibility to go for a walkabout and he is immediately inspirited, his once crooked back moving with joyous leaping as he dances around the door. And he can still after monkeying around the backyard and me calling him with not a little exasperation come zooming around the corner of the house straight into the backdoor, all as if to say, “hey Dad, I’m listening, I’m behaving, I’m a good dog! See, see, see!”
This is not a post about my dog, however. Nor is it about aging, per se. Or the emotions that aging raise, particularly. Rather, it is about bodies. Bones and muscles, cartilage and tissue, brain synapses and cellular mitochondria and all that it engenders. It’s about bodies and the blood, sweat, and tears that go with them. And not just any bodies, but human bodies. My aging dog and his body has heightened my awareness about the body, our bodies. This is really about us.
Part-way into this post and perhaps you want to hear something about peace on earth, comfort and joy, and all the pleasantries and hopefulness this beautiful holiday brings. Well sure, I get that. Christmas does come with that, too. It’s a magical time, sentimentality aside. But if there’s one place where it seems the literalness of the biblical story is more quickly ignored, it seems to be Christmas. It starts with bodies—real bodies of real people who live real lives in the real world, like you and me. As incredible as this story is, it is not a Hallmark channel or Disney version; it’s an honest to goodness, down and dirty, gritty tale that involves not only faith, hope, and love, but the concurrent emotional expressions of fear, courage, anxiety, trepidation, and probably a lot of exhaustion. All of which gives me a lot of hope.
This is the story about God putting on flesh, becoming human, with a body. Not a fairytale body, mind you, a real life body with all the stuff that goes with them. We use the word Incarnation, the embodiment of the Divine, God with us, Emmanuel, but I wonder if we sail to quickly through the meaning meatiness of the idea?
There is a tendency, a human tendency, a religious tendency, a spiritual-but-not-religious tendency to seek a form of escapism. We can pretend easily enough, put up a good front, wear a mask, even convince ourselves at times of what we wish to deal with or not. Our escapism need not be so much a denial of the real, experienced, physical, or material as it can be a misdirected focus at times, maybe too much towards the otherworldly, ethereal, trying towards the transcendent? But Christmas proclaims something different, it testifies to the incarnation. It hearkens back to the beginning when God creates and says it is good. God is making all things new. New in a baby as God comes as a baby.
There’s a Contemporary Christian Music Christmas song by Chris Rice from many years back whose words I love:
Fragile finger sent to heal us
Tender brow prepared for thorn
Tiny heart whose blood will save us
Fragile finger sent to heal us
Unto us is born
If Christmas is about the body, then it also comes with blood. The body and blood as a foreshadowing of that which is to come, the blood of the lamb, the blood that redeems. But most specifically, the blood of birth…
There is such incredible realness of the situation of the birth story that we prefer to ignore. Imagine the scene, along with those shepherds—the earthiness of them who work in the wilderness among the animals, the sweat on Mary’s brow as she struggles to bring forth life, or the tears that Joseph sheds when he first hears the baby cry, tears of joy, he’s here, he’s born, he’s healthy…
And I wonder, do the shepherds cry when they see this thing that has come to pass? Do the angels after they’ve returned to heaven?
Blood, sweat, and tears fill the Christmas story and that gives me such hope. Because as God is born, somehow the great mystery of the Incarnation enables us too to be born again. But along with that, God truly has pitched his tent among us putting on our flesh meaning God “gets” us. Christ gets our blood, sweat, and tears.