A December Message from Fr. Justin

Posted on Dec 1, 2018

In my last Keystone article I mentioned a little series to help contextualize the imaginal realm or the imaginal heart in Christian Theology. Since it is Advent and we are preparing for the great celebration of the incarnation of Jesus Christ, let us return to the wonderful expression of the three-fold understanding of the universe in the Christmas liturgies.

I’m talking particularly about the Triple Birth of Christ celebrated in the three Christ-masses. You may have heard me preach during Christmastide or read about this Triple Birth in Christmas letters past, where there are three different and distinct celebrations of the Birth of Christ. For those familiar with the Book of Common Prayer you may notice that there are three different sets of readings and prayers etc. for Christmas. Celebrating the three different kinds of birth revealed in the Incarnation, we get a sense of three different “floors” of creation.

The first of the Triple Birth is that of God the Father begetting the Word in the depths of Divine Darkness before time and all worlds.

The second celebration of this birth is perhaps the most familiar; that of the historic birth of Jesus to the Blessed Virgin Mary, his mother, in the little town of Bethlehem.

The third birth celebration of Christmas is that ceaseless begetting of Christ in the ground of every heart rendered by God’s loving Spirit.

These three births each have their own Christ-mass, their own Eucharistic celebration.The begetting of the Word in Divine Darkness is fittingly celebrated in the middle of the night on the 24th – 25th, so called the “Midnight Mass”.

The second birth is celebrated at a Christ-mass at dawn. We have the meeting of Divine Darkness with the light of day, the primordial with the historical.

The third Christ-mass is celebrated at high noon, in the full light of history and the revelation of the Gospel to the world. A single community would celebrate all three of these. Even though this kind of liturgical practice is presently out of favor, it’s framework is still found in the Prayer Book, lectionary and the traditional minor propers.

These three births illustrate for us these three “floors”, if you will, of creation. The first celebration in the darkness of night and the divine darkness is an aspect of let’s call it the “third floor”. This is the realm of deep prayer, the ground of being, that glimmering darkness where no Angel ever peaked, and no thing ever did reside, yet out of this time and space and all creation are brought forth.

The second birth at dawn is the unimaginable interpenetration of that which is beyond the third floor yet begotten and manifesting as this Divine Darkness, throughout the very material of creation, the “first floor”. Material reality is interpenetrated through and through with the Divine, and we see this in a unique way in the birth of Jesus Christ. This little baby, just like we were (or are, but it’s doubtful you are reading this and are a baby) is also God and also the very foundational energies of creativity in this world. The unimaginable is done in Christ and we are still in awe and spellbound by it’s great paradox.

We have become more and more materialist over the last 200 years, and so we can easily note the historical side of this second birth. It is the material birth that gets most of our attention and it seems all of the attention of the Secular Christmas Holiday. For Christians this Christmas celebration at dawn is a revelation of both the third and first floor. That, whom is the very luminous darkness of unapproachable light, is born as a humble human being.

The third of these three births is that of Christ in the human heart. And here we begin to focus in on the imaginalis. As you are perhaps becoming more aware, the human heart is not simply the wet pump that rhythms blood and electromagnetic waves. It is the organ of human perception.

This third birth which happens in the heart of the faithful, what I am going to call the “second floor”, is where we become aware of God’s presence and God’s action in us and throughout creation. The imaginal heart perceives the angels singing with us, “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Host. Heaven and earth are full of thy glory” at the Eucharist. Even though perception is not the highest function of the human being, it is an important piece of the integrated Christian life, and what is not discovered here will be unwrapped in our transition to the heavenly estate.

The imaginal heart is especially important as we are finding that our human impact on this beautiful creature we call Earth is causing disastrous effects. It will be important for us as a human family to being to perceive again our relationship with God and to recognize God’s very presence and action in the all sorts of creatures including Earth herself. God’s ministry for us in this world includes that “in obedience to (God) we might rule and serve all (God’s) creatures.” This becomes more expansive when we remember that everything created in Biblical and Christian theology is a creature, i.e. the minerals, animals, plants, the Earth, those “under the Earth”, planets, time, space, etc.

Part of my point here is to expand our view of creation and (re)introduce a whole house, a three “floors” approach to our lives and God’s mission in us and through us. Much of our contemporary secular culture in Anglo North American is predominated by a worldview that seems only to include an exclusive materialist perception and life. It is an idea (contrary to scripture, tradition and experience) that everything that is, is on the first floor, and perceptible by the eyes, ears, nose… and materialist science and that is all there is.

I dare say people’s experience of life, whether a secular humanist or Christian or Buddhist or Jewish or Hindu or Muslim… have had typical natural experiences of all three of these “floors”, even as babies. Typically, the three natural states of so-called consciousness; waking, dreaming, and dreamless sleep, are examples of these three “floors”. Even if many of us have not restored our capacities of the heart and the ground of being, they are there enfolded in our human nature, these three floors continue to be present. Not only can we pray from the ground, the heart, and the brain, but they can also be (re)integrated, which is exactly what the Holy Spirit is doing in us.

I am not the first to mention all of this. Our scripture, liturgy, theology and prayer are overflowing with these and much deeper teachings. We are here on this corner of Pleasant and School streets, together entering into this journey, week after week, year after year and moment by moment, exploring the different floors of our being and the world, and learning bit by bit to integrate them.

We are together being made instruments of God’s wisdom and love, sometimes kicking and screaming, but none the less we endeavor to “run the race that is set before us”.

I hope my brief foray into the triple-birth of Christ and this image of the “Three Floors” is helpful in getting a sense of the vast spectrum of Creation and our own created human nature, even if I have run rough shod over so many important and subtle points.
May these words be helpful in your Advent preparations. Amen.
~Fr. Justin Lanier