Understanding Christmas. Post-theistically

“Understanding” is not reduced to “thinking”. Understanding is therefore not an exclusively mental activity. The mind moves into the world of objects – “object” is anything that can be observed and measured – and tries to understand them through analysis and reasoning. It is an essential task. However, if we reduce ourselves to it, we remain closed in the worst ignorance.

“Understanding” is equivalent to “seeing”. The Sanskrit root “vid”, from which the Latin verb “video” = “I see” means, at the same time, “to know” and “to see”. This is the understanding I am talking about. And we don’t reach it through the mind, but on the contrary, in the silence of the mind, in a bare attention that transcends forms or objects.

“Understanding” means knowing by experience what we are, “savoring” it in the etymological sense of “savor”, “taste”, “relish”. “Sapore” in Italian language, sapientia in Latin from the same root that has “sap” in English.

In English we use the word “under-stand”, “stay beneath, lower things”. What is underneath, usually, it is hidden. What is hidden, most of the times is a secret. Concealed and covered under the earth. It takes time to get in tune, feel empathetically, therefore knowing what things are in their being “covered” and “veiled”. No objective measurement is allowed at this deep level of reality.

“Here is my secret. It is very simple: one can only see well with the heart. The essential is invisible to the eye” (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince).

We remain stuck in ignorance, if we detach ourselves from “what-we-are” and “what-is-beneath” and we risk missing our identity, not really knowing the true nature of things and events of what is out there in the world and what happens to our life.

But how can we remain focused on what is essential in life?

I give you an example. Our mind presents the objects of the world as a projector does when it shows a film on a screen. For the objects to appear adequately, clear and distinct, the screen on which the film is projected must be “absolutely” white, with no other objects or things drawn on it. If the movie were projected on a wall where there are various objects of different shapes and colors, the objects that are projected would not be seen clearly and distinctly, but confused and imprecise.

The white screen represents what we call “understanding”, the knowledge of “what-we-are” and “what-is-beneath-reality”. I am not my feelings, my thoughts, my perceptions.  If we identify ourselves with things, objects, thoughts, emotions, or perceptions, we risk no longer understanding the substance (sub-stantia, what stays under, under-stands) of reality.

Shortly, if Self-knowledge is the beginning of wisdom, the identification of the Self with things, objects, thoughts, emotions or perceptions is the beginning of ignorance.

Understanding and wisdom are not something that we achieve. It is already and has always been present. We need only to get out of the bottle of our perceptions, emotions, and thoughts, even from the image we have of ourselves (person, mask) to let “our” water (“finite” form) be “one” with that of the ocean (“infinite” form). By way of trans-formation, conversion, resurrection.

Christmas celebrates the gratitude of our true nature, our being in the infinite (God), and becoming aware of the sapiential experience of transformation that takes place in us any time we let things go and focus on the essential. “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened” (Lk 2:15). What is this thing that has happened? What is the place where the Son of God is born? That place is “in” us, not “outside” of us.

Christmas celebrates our birth into the light, the passage from ignorance to the understanding of “what I am”,  letting go of the “little” ego to the greater “Self” of my deep identity that comprehends and embraces all things in the silence of the mind. “While a profound silence enveloped all things, and the night was in the middle of its rapid course” (Wis 18:14).

“So, you must be silent.

Then God will be born in you,

utter his word in you and you shall hear it;

but be very sure that if you speak,

the word will have to be silent.

If you go out,

he will most surely come in;

as much as you go out for him

He will come into you; no more, no less….

When shall we find and know,

this birth of God within us?

Only when we concentrate

all our faculties within us

and direct them all towards God.

Then he will be born in us

and make himself our very own.

He will give himself to us as our own,

more completely ours than anything

we have ever called our own.

“A child is born to us, and a son is given to us.”

He is ours.

He is all our own, more truly ours than anything else we own,

and constantly, ceaselessly, he is born in us.  

Johann Tauler (1300 – 1361), disciple of Meister Eckhart


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