Hey, in Germany they call it the second Christmas Day, so what the hey. I thought I’d drop a little note. So, there’s a phrase in the Judeo-Christian tradition that often gets translated as “the Fear of the Lord” as in “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” an understandable theological turn-off for many. After all, didn’t the angels show up in Bethlehem telling everyone to not be afraid? And isn’t there enough to be afraid of without making it a divine mandate? I should think so.
Interestingly, the original reads “Yirat Adonai,” much closer to an injunction for reverence, awe, and wonder, say, at the beauty and intricacy of the created order. It might be closer to what we experience in the face of what the Romantics called the sublime.
It’s something I think the poem “Sunday Walk” by Billy Collins gets at with his customary observations delivered with a wink and a smile. So here we go. Enjoy:
Not only colorful beds of flowers
ruffled today by a breeze off the lake
but the ruffled surface of the lake itself,
and later a boathouse and an oak tree
so old its heavy limbs rested on the ground.
And I don’t want to leave out
the uniformed campus guard I saw studying
a map of the campus without a student in sight.
Then closer to town,
there were shops under green awnings
and several churches,
one topped with a burnished cross,
another announcing a sermon:
“What You Can Take With You.”
So many odd things to see,
but mostly it’s the sun at its apex
inscribing little circles,
little haloes at the top of the sky,
and the freshening breeze,
the nowhere it came from
and the nowhere it is headed,
every leaf wavering, each branch bowed,
and what can I do? I heard myself asking,
with all this evidence of something,
me without a candle, wafer, or a rug,
not even a compass to tell me the right way to face.
Whatever else Christmas may be with its layers of tradition and culturally accrued meaning, it’s an opportunity for this state of being to be born in us. Go lively.