the Tree of Life blossoms forth from the virgin in the cave

Our homily in church this morning was on Jesus Christ as the tree of life as it is given back to us at Christmas. This idea that Jesus is the tree of life is among the most prominent images from the church’s oldest Nativity hymns and prayers. Here is one example:

Prepare, O Bethlehem, For Eden has been opened to all. Adorn yourself, O Ephratha, For the Tree of Life blossoms forth from the virgin in the cave. Her womb is a spiritual paradise planted with the Fruit Divine; If we eat of it, we shall live forever and not die like Adam. Christ is coming to restore the image which He made in the beginning.

I’m not qualified to teach theology or to accurately represent what our priest shared this morning, but here are a few of the key points as I recall them:

  1. The tree of life in Genesis represents God himself as God was present with Adam and Eve in Eden. God is shown to be the source of all life, with living water flowing in four rivers from the tree of life.
  2. Adam and Eve separate themselves from God when they turned away from the source of life to pursue the fruit of another tree, one from which they had been told not to eat because it would lead to death.
  3. This death was not a punishment by God. It was simply the result of turning away from God as the source of all life. This result was actually the grace of God, placing a limit on how much humans would be able to hurt themselves and each other in their blindness and separation form the source of life. Our priest asked us to imagine a world in which men such as Attila the Hun, Hitler and Stalin all were still alive and able to “do what they do.” By placing a guard of cherubim around the Tree of Life, God was putting a limit on the harm that we could do to each other in our sin. Finally, death was part of God’s gracious plan to give us a way back to him as Jesus Christ would unite himself with us in death itself and thereby “destroy death by death.”
  4. In Jesus Christ, we therefore have the Tree of Life from the Garden restored to us. Our priest told us that we would be coming up to that tree and eating its fruit near the end of our liturgy as we partook of the Eucharist. He told us that we should take this quite literally as the fruit from the tree of life.

If you are interested, you can look over a sampling of other old Nativity hymns that I once collected here. Finally, here are a few traditional images related to this old idea that Mary opens up Eden to us, removing the flaming swords of the cherubim and allowing us to eat from the Tree of Life once again:

tree of life

Above: a traditional “Tree of Life” icon showing all the family of Jesus Christ joined together and offering Jesus to the world as the fruit of the tree of life. Left to right, top to bottom, the smaller figures are Jeremiah, Jacob, Malachi, Aaron, Zephaniah, Moses, Gideon, Abraham, Daniel, Elisha, David and Solomon.


Above: “Tree of the Cross” a panel form the Galleria dell’Accademia by Pacino di Bonaguida, 1302-1340. At the bottom, you see Adam and Eve being separated from the tree of life in contrast to the tree of life being given back to us as Jesus Christ offers himself as the bread of life from the cross.

of the sign icon

Above: traditional “Our Lady of the Sign” icon (Russian in this case) showing Jesus carried by his mother Mary. This shows the Theotokos (mother of God) during the Annunciation at the moment of saying, “May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). This icon shows Christ a the moment of conception but nonetheless with the face of a wise teacher (and often holding a scroll). His right hand is raised in blessing. This term “of the Sign” is a reference to the prophecy of Isaiah (7:14): “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel [meaning ‘God with us’].”

who would love us more than he

This passage from The Belgic Confession (1561, in Article 26) brings to mind “the only lover of mankind” as a way of referencing Jesus within many old prayers:

For neither in heaven nor among the creatures on earth is there anyone who loves us more than Jesus Christ does. Although he was “in the form of God,” Christ nevertheless “emptied himself,” taking “human form” and “the form of a slave” for us; and he made himself “like his brothers and sisters in every respect.” Suppose we had to find another intercessor. Who would love us more than he who gave his life for us, even though “we were enemies” And suppose we had to find one who has prestige and power. Who has as much of these as he who is seated at the right hand of the Father, and who has “all authority in heaven and on earth”?

the books of their wisdom were multiplied as the leaves of the forest

Clearly a counterproductive multiplication of books:

Hearing these things, despite the true knowledge which Nólemë had and spread abroad, there were many who hearkened with half their hearts to Melko, and restlessness grew amongst them, and Melko poured oil on their smouldering desires. From him they learnt many things it were not good for any but the great Valar to know, for being half-comprehended such deep and hidden things slay happiness; and besides many of the sayings of Melko were cunning lies or were but partly true, and the Noldoli ceased to sing, and their viols fell silent upon the hill of Kôr, for their hearts grew somewhat older as their lore grew deeper and their desires more swollen, and the books of their wisdom were multiplied as the leaves of the forest.

J.R.R. Tolkien (The Book of Lost Tales, Part One: Part One)

I find some versions of panpsychism quite attractive

David Bentley Hart said in this interview:

You don’t need the morphology [of New Testament cosmology] to believe in a spiritually living creation that is full of spiritual life. You know, I’m something of a panpsychist myself. Not in the modern way, in which, you know, you’re supposed to believe that every atom has a kind of quality called mind. But rather, that everything is founded upon spirit, is full of logos, is full of spiritual realities.

I’m always on the hunt for more about these concepts. The Corinthian Body by Dale Martin is yielding some fruit, and I’m hoping to post a review of it on here for myself before long. Meanwhile, I’m “rereading” The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss as audio book. In portions of pp. 215-230 (2013 print book version), Hart writes:

Alternatively, one could opt for the naturalist version of “panpsychism” (naturalist, that is, rather than dualist or idealist). This theory claims that consciousness is not a unique property of organisms with brains, but is a fundamental property of the universe at large, present in all physical reality in some form: perhaps as, say, a natural accompaniment to the exchange of “information states” that occurs whenever one material reality affects another (so that a thermometer or a coffee spoon could be said to be conscious, presumably at a fairly idiotic level, of a change in room temperature or of stirring cream into coffee). In this view of things, there is a qualitative and intentional dimension to everything, no less fundamental than the particles of matter, though entirely different from them in nature. This approach to things does, at least, relieve one of the burden of explaining the existence of mind—why, it’s everywhere!—but few committed philosophical naturalists will wish to solve the mystery of consciousness by invoking some ubiquitous quintessence more mysterious still. And, in any event, the whole notion, when posed in naturalist terms, merely conflates the distinct realities of information and our consciousness of information, which is both logically illicit and explanatorily vacuous. (For the record, I find some versions of panpsychism quite attractive, but am also quite certain that the idea is irreconcilable with materialism.)

…There is no good reason not to accord serious consideration to the ancient intuition that the true order of ultimate causes is precisely the opposite of what the materialist philosopher imagines it is, and that the material realm is ultimately dependent upon mind rather than the reverse: that the fullness of being upon which all contingent beings depend is at the same time a limitless act of consciousness. What could we possibly imagine we know about matter or mind that would preclude such a possibility? That the concept of incorporeal or extraphysical consciousness is unintelligible? That, as it happens, is a vacuous assertion: We have no plausible causal model for how consciousness could arise from mechanistic physical processes, and therefore no reason at all to presume some sort of necessary bond between mind and matter. And, truth be told, we have far better warrant for believing in mind than we do for believing in matter. Of the material world we have compelling evidence, of course, but all of it consists in mental impressions and conceptual paradigms produced by and inhabiting the prior reality of consciousness. Of consciousness itself, however, our knowledge is immediate and indubitable. I can doubt that the world really exists, but I cannot doubt that I have intentional consciousness, since doubt is itself a form of conscious intention. This certitude is the imperturbable foundation of my knowledge of anything else. We have and share a world only because each of us has this incommunicable and integral subjectivity within. That whole rich inner universe of experience and thought is not only real, but more real than any physical object can be for us—more real, for instance, than this book you hold in your hands, which exists for you only within the far deeper, fuller, and more certain reality of your consciousness. Once again, we can approach nature only across the interval of the supernatural.

…Perhaps, to exist fully is to be manifest to consciousness. If there were a universe in which consciousness did not exist, in what sense precisely would that universe itself exist? Certainly not as a fully articulated spatial and temporal reality filled with clearly discrete objects, concretely and continuously flowing from a vanished past to an as-yet unrealized future, like the universe that exists in our minds: the reality we find represented in our thoughts, in which intensities and den- sities and durations and successions are arranged in such magnificently complex but diverse order, exists only relative to consciousness; in a universe devoid of mind, at the phenomenal level of reality as it appears to intentional awareness—nothing would exist at all. In itself, if it had any reality in itself, this “mindless” universe would be only a plenum or totality of particles or quantum potentialities “extended” relative only to one another, but in a way quite difierent from the kinds of extension in space and time of which we conceive. Even then, however, it seems fair to say that such a universe, if it existed, would exist exactly to the extent that it could be known to consciousness of some kind.

…There is a point then, arguably, at which being and intelligibility become conceptually indistinguishable. It is only as an intelligible order, as a coherent phenomenon (sensible or intellectual), that anything is anything at all, whether an elementary particle or a universe; perhaps it is true that only what could in principle be known can in actuality exist.

Finally, a friend just recommended Biocentrism: How Life and Consciousness are the Keys to Understanding the True Nature of the Universe by Robert Lanza and Bob Berman. I’ll have to check it out. Anyone still reading this, do you have any other leads? Leave a comment.

Santa’s Family Tree in Pictures

Santa Claus has an old and lively family. Like all families, it is filled with stories, but here I want to focus on the images before the stories. Following multiple branches through time is not easy to represent, and I’ve opted to move first down a secondary branch from Odin to Santa Claus and then back up the heaviest branch of the family (with several strange forks) to Saint Nicholas, Bishop of Myra (modern-day Demre, Turkey). These sixty-six images from Santa’s family tree represent all of the basic characters and secondary branches within the these two primary ancestral lines:

01_Y Odin-cabalgando-a-Sleipnir 02

Above: Tjängvide image stone (dated between A.D. 700 and 1000) which features Odin riding his eight-legged horse, Sleipnir.

01_Y Odin-cabalgando-a-Sleipnir

Above: Detail from the Tjängvide image stone focused on Odin and Sleipnir. Odin was often described riding through the sky with animal companions in the Wild Hunt. Some have suggested that Sleipnir’s eight legs inspired the original number for Santa’s eight reindeer (before Rudolph joined in the 1900s and made it nine).

Three figures 12th-century Skog tapestry have been interpreted as the Norse gods Odin Thor and Freyja

Above: These three figures from the Skog tapestry (dated to the 1100s) have been interpreted as the Norse gods Odin, Thor and Freyja.

02_Y odin_with_his_two_crows_hugin_and_munin_poster

Above: Illustration of Odin with his two ravens, Huginn and Muninn, from a 1760 Icelandic manuscript.

03_Y NKS_1867_4to,_97v,_Odin_on_Sleipnir

Above: Illustration of Odin on his eight-legged horse, Sleipnir, from a 1760 Icelandic manuscript.

04_Y Odin_rides_to_Hel W G Collingwood 1908

Above: “Odin Rides to Hel” by W.G. Collingwood, 1908.

05_Y Odin's Hunt Malmström by august-malmstrom 1850s to 1901

Above: “The Wild Hunt” by August Malmström (lived 1829 to 1901), illustration of Odin riding with his wolves and ravens.

06_Y GeorgVonRosenOdin1886

Above: “Odin in the guise of a wanderer” by Georg von Rosen in 1886. (Appeared in the 1893 Swedish translation of the Poetic Edda.)


Above: Frontispiece to John Taylor’s pamphlet “The Vindication of Christmas” from 1652 (printed date 1653).

Father Christmas in Josiah King two pamphlets of 1658 and 1678

Above: Father Christmas in an illustration used by two Josiah King pamphlets (1658 and 1678).

07_Y yule goat The Book of Christmas 1836

Above: from The Book of Christmas by Thomas Kibble Hervey with “Old Christmas” shown riding a yule goat, 1836.

08_Y father christmas with Yule Goat

Above: Father Christmas with the Yule Goat (date and source unknown).


Above: “Christmas and his children” by Robert Seymour, 1836.

11_Y Dicken's christmas carole origional christmas present

Above: A colorized edit of an engraving by John Leech in 1843 for the “Ghost of Christmas Present” in A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (illustration from first edition).


Father Christmas from the Illustrated London News 1847.

09_Y Old Father Christmas_with_the_Yule_Log,_Illustrated_London_News,_23_Dec_1848

Above: “Christmas with the Yule Log” by Alfred Crowquill (Alfred Henry Forrester), 1848 (Illustrated London News).

arthur-rackahm-father-christmas ca 1900

Above: “Father Christmas” by Arthur Rackahm (c. 1900).

arthur rackham old st nick 1907

Above: “Old St. Nick” by Aarthur Rackham from 1907. [Note: This image could fit below among the Saint Nicholas branch of the family, but I include it here because these two illustrations by Rackham show how Father Christmas and St. Nick are two distinct figures. This image of “Old St. Nick” also demonstrates a critical secondary-branch in the Saint Nicholas clan where the human saint is replaced by an elf or a gnome-like creature, often from the far north and living underground. This is the source of the “Jolly Old St. Nick” name that later becomes associated with Santa Claus along with ideas about where and how he lives.]

A-Merry-Christmas-made-in-Saxony-ca 1900

Above: Saxon postcard c. 1900 from the Kemper Chambers Collection.

victorian father christmas

Above: illustration of Father Christmas from the Victorian era (1837-1901, exact date and source unknown).

Victorian English Father Christmas in Green

Above: illustration of Father Christmas from the Victorian era (1837-1901, exact date and source unknown).

Father_Christmas_Tuck_Photo_Oilette_postcard 1919

Above: Father Christmas from a 1919 Tuck postcard (by the London company of Raphael Tuck & Sons), Photo Oilette series number C7513).

12_Y Father Christmas Tolkien

Above: The first Father Christmas letter by J.R.R. Tolkien to his children, 1920.

13_Y Father Christmas in Narnia

Above: Illustration of Father Christmas by Pauline Diana Baynes in the 1950 first edition of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis (colorization added).

father christmas blue

Above: Illustration of Father Christmas (date and source unknown).

father christmas

Above: Illustration of Father Christmas (date and source unknown).

santa claus photo

Above: Contemporary image of Santa Claus. [Note: Although Father Christmas and Santa Claus are separate figures, several indirect influences on Santa Claus can be noted from the above members of the family. Below, after two more contemporary Santa images, the images from here on will reverse direction in time as we move back up the main branch in Santa’s family tree toward Saint Nicholas.]

Orthodox cross adorned with Santa 2015 Child in York Pa

Above: 2015 photo that I took at my Orthodox (Antiochian) church showing a cross decorated by a child with a Santa Claus.

santa-claus photo

Above: One more contemporary image of Santa Claus.

Reconstruction of St Nicholas by Professor Caroline Wilkinson

Above: 2014 reconstruction of Saint Nicholas by Dr. Caroline Wilkinson with Face Lab (Liverpool John Moores University). Based on thousands of minutely-detailed measurements and x-ray photographs (roentgenography) from the skull and other bones of St. Nicholas’ (at the request of the Vatican) by anatomy professor Luigi Martino when the bones were removed temporarily from their crypt in the Basilica di San Nicola (Bari, Italy) during the 1950s.

Reconstruction Image Foundry Studios produced a 3D Visualisation of the Real Face of St Nicholas

Above: Initial reconstruction and computer generated image of Saint Nicholas by Dr. Caroline Wilkinson from 2004 (with Image Foundry Studios and Anand Kapoor).

Kris Kringle 02

Above: young Kris Kringle (later Santa Claus) from the 1970 film “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town.”

Kris Kringle holiday-specials-watching-slide

Above: young Kris Kringle (later Santa Claus) from the 1970 film “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town.”

Christkind 2019-20 Benigna Munsi

Above: German girl dressed as the Christkind in a traditional German protestant Christmas celebration. The name “Kris Kringle” comes from an Americanization of Christkind (German for “Christ Child”). This character developed after Martin Luther introduced it to refocus German Christmas traditions away from Saint Nicholas and back toward God’s incarnation as Jesus Christ. However, the Christkind developed into its own figure as an angelic child that sometimes appeared alongside both Jesus Christ and Saint Nicholas.

Coke Santa by Haddon Sundblom 1959 large 01

Above: Santa illustration by Haddon Sundblom for Coca-Cola in 1959.

Coke Santa by Haddon Sundblom 1934 large 02

Above: Santa illustration by Haddon Sundblom for Coca-Cola in 1934.

Coke Santa by Haddon Sundblom 1931 01

Above: another Santa illustration by Haddon Sundblom for Coca-Cola in 1931.

Coke Santa 1931 02

Above: Santa illustrated by Haddon Sundblom for Coca-Cola in 1931.

A-Joyful-Christmas-printed-in-Germany-ca 1908

Above: Card featuring Saint Nicholas printed in Germany c. 1908. Given as a comparison to the developments taking place in the United States.

The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus 1902 children book L Frank Baum illustrated Mary Cowles Clark

Above: cover of The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, a 1902 children’s book written by L. Frank Baum (best know for authoring The Wonderful Wizard of Oz) and illustrated by Mary Cowles Clark.

Santa Claus Missouri History Museum Photographs and Prints Collections c 1900

Christmas color postcard with illustration of Santa Claus inserting a frightened child into sack c. 1900 (Missouri History Museum, photographs and prints collections, ID: N39366).

N-Pole-Wireless-Co-Santa-Claus-Proprietor-ca 1900 Kemper Chambers Collection

Above: “N. Pole Wireless Co Santa Claus Proprietor” c. 1900 from the Kemper Chambers Collection.

10_Y Goody_Santa_Claus_1889

Above: 1889 cover of the songbook “Goody Santa Claus on a Sleigh Ride” by Katharine Lee Bates (best known as the writer of “America the Beautiful”).

Nast Hello Little One 1884

Above: “Hello Little One” by Thomas Nast for Harper’s Weekly in 1884.

Nast Santa Claus or St Nick by Thomas Nast for Harper s Weekly in 1881

Above: illustration of “Santa Claus” or “St Nick” by Thomas Nast for Harper’s Weekly in 1881.

Nast And-to-All-a-Good-Night-1879

Above: “And to All a Good Night” by Thomas Nast for Harper’s Weekly in 1879.

Nast Collection The-coming-of-Santa-Claus-1872 Jolly Old Elf arrival to pets

Above: “The coming of Santa Claus” (the “Jolly Old Elf” arrives to the pets) by Thomas Nast for Harper’s Weekly in 1872.

Nast Visit of Saint Nicholas by Thomas Nast 1869

Above: “Visit of Saint Nicholas” by Thomas Nast for Harper’s Weekly in 1869.

Nast first drawing of Saint Nick, Santa Claus in CampWeekly Cover-January-3-1863 Thomas Nast

Above: “Santa Claus in Camp” was the first of the many Thomas Nast illustrations of Santa Claus for Harper’s Weekly. This was the cover on January 3, 1863. This Civil-War-era image was the most critical step in the development of a unified nation-wide identity for Santa Claus.

Santa Claus in Camp

Above: another image of Thomas Nast’s “Santa Claus in Camp” from 1863.

Swan-pulled-strawberry-sled-with-demons-reprinted-1870s-post card Kemper Chambers Collection

Above: Small demons on swans pull “Santa Claus” in a strawberry sled in this 1870s post card from the Kemper Chambers Collection.

Bram van der Vlugt nog één keer Sinterklaas

Above: a Dutch celebration of a traditional visit from “Sinter Klaas” accompanied by Zwarte Piet (Dutch meaning “Black Pete”). This traditional figure among largely Protestant Dutch colonists in New York city (originally called New Amsterdam) likely provided the primary basis for the name “Santa Claus” as well as for his basic features and costume. [Note: this tradition of Zwarte Piet has sad and hurtful aspects with regard to the portrayal of different people groups. See next image. Many other “companions of Saint Nicholas” showed up in other countries throughout Europe: Père Fouettard (French), Knecht Ruprecht (German meaning Farmhand/Servant Rupert/Robert), Belsnickel or Pelznikel (German meaning “Walloping-Nickel”), Kriskinkle (German for “Christmas woman”) and Krampus (a fearful figure in Austria, Bavaria, South Tyrol, Slovenia, and Croatia probably originating in the pre-Christian Alpine pagan folklore).]

Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet or Black Pete

Above: a contemporary cartoon by Andy Warner (2013 for an article showing the concern of parents at the troubling associations with Sinter Klaas as he is typically surrounded by numerous figures in costume as Zwarte Piet. Although the idea was much older in other parts of Europe, the idea that Sinterklaas had a servant was first printed in Dutch within a book by Jan Schenkman called Sint Nicolaas en Zijn Knecht (English: Saint Nicholas and His Servant, 1850).


Above: Illustration from Jan Schenkman’s book Sint Nicolaas en Zijn Knecht (English: Saint Nicholas and His Servant, 1850).

Sinterklaas Dutch

Above: one more image of a traditional Dutch Sinterklaas costume. [Note: Another theory sometimes given for the name “Santa Claus” is that it was an American mispronunciation of the saint’s name as used by Italian immigrants: “Sant Nikolas.” However, given how early “Santa Claus” appears in print in New York city, it is most likely derived from the Dutch “Sinterklaas.”]

Old Santeclaus with Much Delight 1821 page 1

Above: illustration from page 1 of “Old Santeclaus with Much Delight,” an anonymous children’s poem published in New York in 1821. [Note: A few other publication dates to note are: 1809 with A History of New York by Washington Irving (a satirical book that described the Dutch settlers’ Christmas traditions including a jolly St. Nicholas who delivered presents and flew over houses in a cart pulled by horses), 1823 with “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (better known subsequently as “Twas the Night Before Christmas”) by American Bible scholar Clement Clarke Moore (first published anonymously and then under Moore’s name in 1844 and with some arguing that the poem was actually by Henry Beekman Livingston, Jr. from a few years before) and 1836 with “The Knickerbocker’s Rescue Santa Claus” by James Kirke Paulding (1778–1860) from The Book of Saint Nicholas.]


Above: Looking again at contemporary developments outside of the United States, this is a German “Christkind” illustration from 1893 (Stadt Gottes, Illustrierte Zeitschrift für das katholische Volk, Sammelband). Children are throwing open a window to watch an infant Christ and angels descending to them with a Christmas tree.

Knecht_Ruprecht_und_das_Christkind 1800s

Above: “Knecht Ruprecht und das Christkind” from the 1800s in Germany, showing how the Protestant figure of the “Christ child” was mixed with older figures such as Knecht Ruprecht (one of the German companions of Saint Nicholas).

Krampus victorian xmas 02

Above: Krampus in a Victorian era Christmas card. Krampus was first connected to Saint Nicholas in the 1600s. After a period of repressing this figure in many areas, postcards featuring Krampus were extremely popular again in the 1800s and 1900s.

Krampus 02

Above: Krampus in a Christmas card from the 1870s.

Krampus 03

Above: Krampus in a Victorian era Christmas card.

Saint Nicholas and Krampus visit a Viennese home 1896 illustration

Above: Saint Nicholas and Krampus visit a Viennese home in a 1896 illustration.

1863 Otto von Reinsberg-Düringsfeld Das_festliche_Jahr_img444_Weihnachtsmasken

Above: 1863 illustration of a visit from Saint Nicholas and Krampus by Otto von Reinsberg-Düringsfeld in Das festliche Jahr in Sitten.

St Nicholas with Money bag icon Our Brother For the Birds

Above: traditional iconography showing the story of Saint Nicholas saving a man’s three daughters from slavery by secretly bringing them money during the night.


Above: traditional icon of Saint Nicholas. Prior to the 1600s, images of Saint Nicholas were all religious icons used for prayer and veneration (primarily within the life and services of local churches). These icons contained only the saint (with no companions, although he was sometimes surrounded by smaller images of fellow saints as well as his Lord Jesus Christ).

Icon veliky-novgorod-russian-st-nicholas-painted-on-wooden

Above: traditional icon of Saint Nicholas.


Above: traditional icon of Saint Nicholas.

Icon St Nickolas from monastery of St Catherine in Sinai 10th cent

Above: traditional icon of Saint Nicholas dating from 900s. This icon is from the monastery of Saint Catherine in Sinai, and it is the oldest image of the saint that is still in existence.

To recap, the images above represent these two main branches of Santa’s ancestral tree:

1. Christian and Wider-European Folklore Branch: Saint Nicholas of Myra (the town of Demre in today’s Turkey) lived from A.D. 270 to 343. He grew to be deeply loved throughout the Christian world (including Africa and Asia). Many stories and figures were connected to him in later European folklore. Key names from this family clan:

  • Saint Nicholas
  • Companions of Saint Nicholas
    • Knecht Ruprecht: German meaning Farmhand (or Servant) Rupert (or Robert)
    • Belsnickel or Pelznikel: German meaning “Walloping” and “Nickel” (from “Nikolaus”)
    • Kriskinkle: German for “Christmas woman” a variation on Belsnickel
    • Zwarte Piet: Dutch meaning “Black Pete” a serving person who was a Spanish Moor [Note: this and the French equivalent below clearly have deeply sad and hurtful aspects with regard to the portrayal of different people groups.]
    • Père Fouettard: French equivalent to Zwarte Piet
    • Krampus: Austria, Bavaria, South Tyrol, Slovenia, and Croatia a fearful figure probably originating in the pre-Christian Alpine traditions and sometimes accompanying Saint Nicholas
  • German Protestant Folklore Branch: Martin Luther wanted to recenter Christmas on the incarnation of Jesus as an infant. In German protestant traditions, the Christkind became a sprite-like child, usually depicted with blond hair and angelic wings. Sometimes the Christkind is shown as a specific angel bringing the presents (as it appears in some processions together with an image of little Jesus Christ). Later, the Christkind was also said to make rounds delivering gifts with Saint Nicholas as one of his companions. In United States, the term developed into Kris Kringle which was then sometimes used in stories as a proper name for the person with the title of Santa Claus. Key names from this family clan:
    • Christkind
    • Kris Kringle (developed from “Christkind” later in the United States)

2. British Pagan and Folklore Branch: Stories of Odin likely developed among (or were introduced to) the Germanic Iron Age peoples. With over 170 names, Odin is the god with the most names among the pantheon of the Germanic peoples. Key names from this family clan:

  • Odin
  • Yule Father
  • Father Christmas

This family tree culminates in the images and stories of Santa Claus as they developed in the United States. Do in large part to product marketing and popular entertainment, these stories and images of Santa Claus have also spread to many other parts of the world (including back into many of the originating countries such as Holland, England and Germany):

  • Sinter Klaas (Dutch meaning “Saint Nicholas,” although another version of the story is that Santa Claus comes from Americans imitating the pronunciation of Saint Nickolas by Italian immigrants).
  • Santa Claus

P.S. Some of you might appreciate these excerpts from a delightful GKC essay on Santa Claus and the giftedness of life.

P.P.S. Here are some more illustrations by Mary Cowles Clark from The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus by Frank L. Baum in 1902 (which I have read).

Baum The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus 1902 children book L Frank Baum illustrated Mary Cowles Clark 01

Above: a wood nymph finds the baby who grows up to be Santa Claus.

Baum The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus 1902 children book L Frank Baum illustrated Mary Cowles Clark 03

Above: bringing the baby to the king.

Baum The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus 1902 children book L Frank Baum illustrated Mary Cowles Clark 02

Above: the child who grows up to be Santa Claus.

Baum illustrated Mary Cowles Clark

Above: Santa Claus as a grown man.

His mother had been careful to make him aware of that

From Across Five Aprils by Irene Hunt (chapter 4):

Suffering at the mercy of the elements was accepted by Jethro as being quite as natural as the hunger for green vegetables and fresh fruit that was always with him during the winter. When one found comfort, he was grateful, but he was never such a fool as to expect a great deal of it. The hardships one endured had a purpose. His mother had been careful to make him aware of that.

If you would find the newborn king

From the sermons of Meister Eckhart. Sermon One (Pf 1, Q 101, QT 57):

Here, in time, we are celebrating the eternal birth which God the Father bore and bears unceasingly in eternity, because this same birth is now born in time, in human nature. St. Augustine says, ‘What does it avail me that this birth is always happening, if it does not happen in me? That it should happen in me is what matters.’ We shall therefore speak of this birth, of how it may take place in us and be consummated in the virtuous soul, whenever God the Father speaks His eternal Word in the perfect soul. For what I say here is to be understood of the good and perfected man who has walked and is still walking in the ways of God; not of the natural, undisciplined man, for he is entirely remote from, and totally ignorant of this birth. There is a saying of the wise man, “When all things lay in the midst of silence, then there descended down into me from on high, from the royal throne, a secret word.” This sermon is about that Word.

…Now I say, as I said before, that these words and this act are only for the good and perfected people, who have so absorbed and assimilated the essence of all virtues that these virtues emanate from them naturally, without their seeking; and above all there must dwell in them the worthy life and lofty teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ. They must know that the very best and noblest attainment in this life is to be silent and let God work and speak within.

…Now observe the use and the fruit of this secret Word and this darkness. The Son of the heavenly Father is not born alone in this darkness, which is his own: you too can be born a child of the same heavenly Father and of none other, and to you too He will give power. Now observe how great the use is! For all the truth learned by all the masters by their own intellect and understanding, or ever to be learned till Doomsday, they never had the slightest inkling of this knowledge and this ground. Though it may be called a nescience, an unknowing, yet there is in it more than in all knowing and under­ standing without it, for this unknowing lures and attracts you from all understood things, and from yourself as well. This is what Christ meant when he said, “Whoever will not deny himself and will not leave his father and mother, and is not estranged from all these, is not worthy of me” (Matt. 10:37), as though he were to say, he who does not abandon creaturely externals can be neither conceived nor born in this divine birth. But divesting yourself of yourself and of everything external does truly give it to you. And in very truth I be­lieve, nay, I am sure, that the man who is established in this cannot in any way ever be separated from God. I say he can in no way lapse into mortal sin. He would rather suffer the most shameful death, as the saints have done before him, than commit the least of mortal sins. I say such people cannot willingly commit or consent to even a venial sin in themselves or in others if they can stop it. So strongly are they lured and drawn and accustomed to that, that they can never turn to any other way; to this way are directed all their senses, all their powers.

May the God who has been born again as man assist us to this birth, eternally helping us, weak men, to be born in him again as God. Amen.

Sermon Two (Pf 2, Q 102, QT 58):

“Where is he who is born king of the Jews?” Now observe, as regards this birth, where it takes place: “Where is he who is born?” Now I say as I have often said before, that this eternal birth occurs in the soul precisely as it does in eternity, no more and no less, for it is one birth, and this birth occurs in the essence and ground of the soul.

…Your heart is often moved and turned away from the world. How could that be but by this illumination? It is so charming and delightful that you become weary of all things that are not God or God’s. It draws you to God and you become aware of many a prompting to do good, though ignorant of whence it comes. This inward inclination i s in n o way due to creatures o r their bidding, for what creatures direct or effect always comes from without. But by this work it is only the ground (of the soul) that is stirred, and the freer you keep yourself the more light, truth, and discernment you will find. Thus no man ever went astray for any other reason than that he first departed from this, and then sought too much to cling to outward things. St. Augustine says there are many who sought light and truth, but only outside where it was not to be found. Finally they go out so far that they never get back home or find their way in again. Thus they have not found the truth, for truth is within, in the ground, and not without. So he who would see light to discern all truth, let him watch and become aware of this birth within, in the ground. Then all his powers will be illuminated, and the outer man as well. For as soon as God inwardly stirs the ground with truth, its light darts into his powers, and that man knows at times more than anyone could teach him. As the prophet says, “I have gained greater understanding than all who ever taught me.” You see then, because this light cannot shine or lighten in sinners, that is why this birth cannot possibly occur in them. This birth cannot coexist with the darkness of sin, even though it takes place, not in the powers, but in the essence and ground of the soul.

…The blessed see God in a single image, and in that image, they discern all things. God too sees Himself thus, perceiving all things in Himself. He need not turn from one thing to another, as we do. Suppose in this life we always had a mirror before us, in which we saw all things at a glance and recognized them in a single image, then neither action nor knowledge would be any hindrance to us. But we have to turn from one thing to another, and so we can only attend to one thing at the expense of another. For the soul is so firmly at­tached to the powers that she has to flow with them wherever they flow, because in every task they perform the soul must be present and attentive, or they could not work at all. If she is dissipated by attending to outward acts, this is bound to weaken her inward work. For at this birth God needs and must have a vacant free and unencum­bered soul, containing nothing but Himself alone, and which looks to nothing and nobody but Him. As to this, Christ says, “Whoever loves anything but me, whoever loves father and mother or many other things is not worthy of me. I did not come upon earth to bring peace but a sword, to cut away all things, to part you from sister, brother, mother, child, and friend that in truth are your foes” (Matt. 10:34-36; d. 19:28). For whatever is familiar to you is your foe. If your eye wanted to see all things, and your ear to hear all things and your heart to remember all things, then indeed your soul would be dissipated in all these things.

Accordingly a master says, ‘To achieve an interior act, a man must collect all his powers as if into a corner of his soul where, hiding away from all images and forms, he can get to work.’ Here, he must come to a forgetting and an unknowing. There must be a stillness and a silence for this Word to make itself heard. We cannot serve this Word better than in stillness and in silence: there we can hear it, and there too we will understand it aright – in the unknowing. To him who knows nothing it appears and reveals itself.

…Here we must come to a transformed knowledge, and this un­ knowing must not come from ignorance, but rather from knowing we must get to this unknowing.6 Then we shall become knowing with divine knowing, and our unknowing will be ennobled and adorned with supernatural knowing. And through holding ourselves passive in this, we are more perfect than if we were active.

…Our bliss lies not in our activity, but in being passive to God. For just as God is more excellent than creatures, by so much is God’s work more excellent than mine. It was from His immeasurable love that God set our happiness in suffering/ for we undergo more than we act, and receive incomparably more than we give; and each gift that we receive prepares us to receive yet another gift, indeed a greater one, and every divine gift further increases our receptivity and the desire to receive something yet higher and greater. Therefore some teachers say that it is in this respect the soul is commensurate with God. For just as God is boundless in giving, so too the soul is boundless in receiving or conceiving. And just as God is omnipotent to act, so too the soul is no less profound to suffer; and thus she is transformed with God and in God.8 God must act and the soul must suffer, He must know and love Himself in her; she must know with His knowledge and love with His love, and thus she is far more with what is His than with her own, and so too her bliss is more dependent on His action than on her own.

…In this way your unknowing is not a lack but your chief perfection, and your suffering your highest activity. And so in this way you must cast aside all your deeds and silence your faculties, if you really wish to experience this birth in you. If you would find the newborn king, you must outstrip and abandon all else that you might find. That we may outstrip and cast behind us all things unpleasing to the newborn king, may He help us who became a human child in order that we might become the children of God. Amen.

These passages are from The Complete Mystical Works of Meister Eckhart, translated and edited by Maurice O’C. Walshe (revised with a foreword by Bernard McGinn). Taken from an edition by Crossroad Publishing Company, copyrighted 2009 by The English Sangha Trust, this work is a reissue of the three-volume Meister Eckhart: Sermons and Treatises translated and edited by M. O’C. Walshe. Sermon three in this collection continues to speak of this birth in us while continuing into the childhood of Jesus Christ with an exposition of “I must be about my Father’s business.”

I came across these sermons when seeking to find the source of this passage that is attributed to Meister Eckhart in many places (but without any full citation that I can find beyond “as quoted in Christianity by Joe Jenkins, 1995, p. 27″):

We are all meant to be mothers of God. What good is it to me if this eternal birth of the divine Son takes place unceasingly, but does not take place within myself? And, what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace if I am not also full of grace? What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to His Son if I do not also give birth to Him in my time and my culture? This, then, is the fullness of time: When the Son of Man is begotten in us.

a slave society which might be called either capitalist or Communist

George Orwell in “Second Thoughts on James Burnham” (1946):

Chesterton predicted the disappearance of democracy and private property, and the rise of a slave society which might be called either capitalist or Communist.

My Accidental Day with Super Power

I have taken down the original draft of this story, and I’m delighted to share that Macrina Magazine has expressed interest in publishing a revised version of it. I will post a link here to their published version when that is up.

Note on the background of my writing of this story: In preparation for our Thanksgiving get-together this year, my mother-in-law asked all of the extended family members (of a capable age) to write a short story describing one day with a superpower of their choice. I did not entirely follow the directions, but this is what came to me.

For now, I’m leaving a few passages here from other places that helped me to respond with this story.

Emily Dickinson poem 1544:

Who has not found the Heaven — below —

Will fail of it above —

For Angels rent the House next ours,

Wherever we remove —

…Perhaps the best I cn say is that I felt as if I was united to all of these middle lines of Hopkin’s great poem:

It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil

Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?

Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;

And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;

And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil

Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;

There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;

…Although I was wore shoes and was in downtown York, PA rather than a pastoral setting such as this, the world still reached out to me in this same way. Just as the protagonist does within this passage, I stepped out into the early morning half-light:

A wondrous change had passed upon the world—or was it not rather that a change more marvellous had taken place in us? Without light enough in the sky or the air to reveal anything, every heather-bush, every small shrub, every blade of grass was perfectly visible—either by light that went out from it, as fire from the bush Moses saw in the desert, or by light that went out of our eyes. Nothing cast a shadow; all things interchanged a little light. Every growing thing showed me, by its shape and colour, its indwelling idea—the informing thought, that is, which was its being, and sent it out. My bare feet seemed to love every plant they trod upon. The world and my being, its life and mine, were one. The microcosm and macrocosm were at length atoned, at length in harmony! I lived in everything; everything entered and lived in me. To be aware of a thing, was to know its life at once and mine, to know whence we came, and where we were at home—was to know that we are all what we are, because Another is what he is! Sense after sense, hitherto asleep, awoke in me—sense after sense indescribable, because no correspondent words, no likenesses or imaginations exist, wherewithal to describe them. Full indeed—yet ever expanding, ever making room to receive—was the conscious being where things kept entering by so many open doors! When a little breeze brushing a bush of heather set its purple bells a ringing, I was myself in the joy of the bells, myself in the joy of the breeze to which responded their sweet TIN-TINNING, myself in the joy of the sense, and of the soul that received all the joys together. To everything glad I lent the hall of my being wherein to revel. I was a peaceful ocean upon which the ground-swell of a living joy was continually lifting new waves; yet was the joy ever the same joy, the eternal joy, with tens of thousands of changing forms. Life was a cosmic holiday.

Now I knew that life and truth were one; that life mere and pure is in itself bliss; that where being is not bliss, it is not life, but life-in-death. Every inspiration of the dark wind that blew where it listed, went out a sigh of thanksgiving. At last I was! I lived, and nothing could touch my life!

As I said, imagine all this but within the context that Paul describes in Romans 8:19-22:

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.

…We were close to concluding our conversation when the young man shared a few lines that he particularly loved from “The Ballad of the White Horse” by G. K. Chesterton:

For the end of the world was long ago,

As children of some second birth,

And all we dwell to-day

Like a strange people left on earth

As children of some second birth,

After a judgment day.

This recalled a line from a book that I had recently read, and I picked the book up, wishing that I could somehow point out the passage to him through the phone. Taking up George MacDonald’s Lilith, I put my fingers on the lines: “Annihilation itself is no death to evil. Only good where evil was, is evil dead. …None but God hates evil and understands it.”

…As I tried to explain what the world was like through the senses of my glorified body, one passage that I shared was from “Imagination and Thought in the Middle Ages” by C.S. Lewis. This was first delivered as a lecture in 1956 and then published posthumously in the 1966 collection of essays called Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature:

We find (not now by analogy but in strictest fact) that in every sphere there is a rational creature called an Intelligence which is compelled to move, and therefore to keep his sphere moving, by his incessant desire for God. …The motions of the universe are to be conceived not as those of a machine or even an army, but rather as a dance, a festival, a symphony, a ritual, a carnival, or all these in one. They are the unimpeded movement of the most perfect impulse towards the most perfect object.

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