Clothed

12/27/09

On Christmas Day I encouraged my son and daughter-in-law to pay attention to the development of imagination and the aesthetic in my granddaughter, as they will to her physical, rational and emotional development. The reason, I said, was because we perceive reality in many ways and through many senses. At Christmas it is the sense of imagination and the aesthetic that enables us to connect with the presence of God in the birth of the baby Jesus and what that means for us. A heightened sense of the aesthetic and the imagination also helps us to be aware of the numinous, or the “Holy Other” in life. In other words the aesthetic and imagination help us to know God.

Now a sense of the aesthetic and of imagination is not just an internal thing. It is nourished and educated by the world around us, or the context in which we live.  This Christmas my nieces got a lot of clothes, which help them to look pretty, feel comfortable and to do things. They are developing a sense of taste and of what is appropriate and lovely as well as sturdy and durable. Frilly stuff is okay sometimes, but not when you are playing with dolls on the living room floor.

I want to tell you a story, which was told to me by my son. He and his wife live in a co-op on the Lower East Side, right on the line between Chinatown and a heavily Jewish neighborhood. Eight months ago, when my daughter-in-law was pregnant, she wasn’t feeling right, so he took her to the emergency room at the hospital to be checked out. While they were waiting, two little old Jewish ladies came in. One of them had apparently fallen and her face was all cut and bruised and she had a lump the size of a baseball on her forehead. The doctor came out, looked at her and said, “Where do you hurt?” “My leg,” she replied. “Are you taking any medicines?” “Yes,” she answered and pulled out a bottle of the most vile looking stuff. “Where did you get that?” “In Paraguay.” ‘Why were you in Paraguay?” “Well, Uncle Adolph didn’t like us very much.” It was then that my son noticed that she had numbers tattooed on her forearm. She had at one time been in a German concentration camp during WWII. The doctor led her into an examining room, where the nurses tried to get her undressed and into an examining gown. There was much strum and drag (commotion). Finally, she called out, “I’m too old to be naked!”

“I’m too old to be naked!” Isn’t that the cry of our human existence? We come into the world naked and are wrapped in swaddling clothes. Small and vulnerable, we need to be protected from the cold and cushioned from those things, which scratch and cut us. At each stage of our life we wear the age appropriate garments, a graduation gown, a tradesman’s uniform, a nurse’s scrubs, a suit, military uniform, fancy outfit or sports wear. We wear an “attitude,” a “perspective,” and “inclination,” even a “desire.” When we are young, or in love, we might be naked for a little bit, but it is always too vulnerable, too revealing, too private to be public.

Today Auden is to be baptized. The service, the liturgy, is filled with metaphors and images. She is washed; she is given the Holy Spirit; she is marked as Christ’s own; she joins the household of faith and has new brothers and sisters in Christ. But it seems to me that above all she is putting on the garment of faith. She is being clothed not only in the love of her mother and father but also in the story of the narrative of faith in the Bible and in the word and song and dance (liturgy) of the Church. St. Paul speaks of putting on the “armor of God” and girding ourselves against sin and evil. (Ephesians 6:11,13). That may be a little strong, when referring to a little baby girl, but Paul’s got the right idea.

It is my prayer that Auden’s parents will help her explore her garment of faith, through learning the Bible stories, worshipping regularly at church, and knowing the lives of other Christians who are also, “too old to be naked,” persons of faith who know that they cannot go through life alone, but need to have God in Christ clothing them and walking along with them on their pilgrimage of faith.

It is my prayer for this parish and for this congregation that you will tend your garment of faith through prayer, charity and witness. For as you know, the garment of faith is really God’s love for you and me. It is big enough to fit all and sturdy enough to help us survive in the real world of our everyday journeys. You and I are simply, “too old to be naked.” – Amen- Fr. Gage.