the world that we inhabit, that we create together as spiritual beings, that we perceive, that is the work of our wills in our ignorance is maya

Transcription from David Bentley Hart on the “Actually, It’s Good” podcast with an episode titled “Gnosticism… It’s Good” published Nov 17, 2020:

19:32
My interest in recovering the real form of gnosticism, trying to understand what it really was, if we are going to keep trying to use that word, is mostly to try to detach our understanding of the New Testament and the early church from the pictures that we formed of it based on later theological developments, later theological habits of thought, and later cultural alienations and estrangements from the original texts that allow us to imagine that we understand the world of the New Testament much better than we actually do.

22:48
…We tend to characterize Chrsistianity’s understanding of creation as, in an unqualified way, one of affirmation. Now it is in the sense that there is no notion in Paul or John that this world is literally ontologically estranged from God to the point that it is actually handiwork of a lesser celestial demon or the demiurge. And yet if you actually look at the New Testament, the Gospel of John is about as stark and dualistic in some of its formulations as it’s possible to be. Christ descends from above, and that above is not—and this is one of the things that I hope we talk about, the cosmology of the first century and other things like angelology that are often misunderstood, not just by modern Christians but Christians from the medieval period onward—but that descent is quite real. He is the man who is above, and he alone knows the secrets of the Father and descends into the darkness and the darkness does not comprehend him. Throughout John’s gospel, it is a war of darkness and light, and it’s also a light that divides rather starkly. Christ passes through the Gospel of John not like the frail man of sorrows or the political revolutionary of the synoptics but as already, not only risen but as one who comes from the mysterious realm that is already in some sense if not alien to but so transcendent of this realm that there can only be enmity until the end between the children of this world and of the devil who is called the ruler of this age, the ruler of this world, the archon of this world or the prince of this world in the King James and the one who comes from the Father who alone reveal the words of eternal life that gnosis that saves and heals.

[25:22]
In Paul, 1 Corinthians 15 is where it is most evident, but it is there throughout Paul. The current age, the olam ha-zeh in Hebrew, is not just a somewhat diminished reality. It is one that has been under the rule of mutinous angelic celestial powers literally in the heavens above separating us physically and spiritually from the highest heaven of God the Father as well as beings under the earth and on the earth that are very much the sort of malign spiritual agencies that were part of the intertestamental and second temple literature of the Noahic fall. For Paul, if you read 1 Cornithians 15, the age to come is one in which these powers are subdued by force, placed under the governance of the Son that may be handed over to the Father, and only then will the cosmos be under the rule of God and the way clear, physically and spiritually, to communion between us and God so that there is no longer any height or depth, no angel or archon or power between us and God. That imagery should be taken very literally because Paul meant it quite literally. The fallen heavens are guarded by these sentinel beings and the nations governed by them. The age to come is one in which we will put aside flesh, and he means flesh. …[Flesh] is actually an element incapable of inheriting the Kingdom of God. “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God.” So our body in the olam ha-ba, the age to come, will be a spiritual body that is literally a body composed of the element called spirit which is a semi-physical reality in its own right in the metaphysics that Paul’s language presumes.

[28:03]
So there is a very dark view of the condition of the cosmos under the reigning archon, the god [or archon] of this present evil age [or cosmos]. …It’s easier for twentieth and twenty-first century Chrsitians with antibiotics that work and when strep throat doesn’t kill your child and infant mortality rates aren’t fifty-two percent. It’s easy for us, somehow, to delude ourselves that the dissatisfactions and sorrows of life that we haven’t encountered aren’t as bad as they’ll prove to be, and we certainly can’t look at the world from the perspective of ancient persons who understood suffering and reconciled themselves to it far more easily than we do. Nonetheless, throughout Christian history, this provisional dualism [rather quickly] receded. It is there up to the early Alexandrians. You find it even in Origen when he talks about the nature of the cosmos. They still inhabited the same cosmology. It’s almost literal, physical estrangement, and I should say estrangement of nature between creation and the most High God.

Interviewer: Even as late as Maximus, they are still claiming that Chrisitianity is this true gnosticism.

Hart: Yah. 

Interviewer: And one of the key claims is that—especially in the Alexandrian tradition starting with Origen—not everything that appears to us is a work of God, a creation of God. …That infuses the New Testament themes that you are talking about with the most substantial sense in which that provisional dualism is a true dualism, that one side has to be overcome, obliterated. This is inherent in the gospel, in the Kingdom of God.

Hart: Right. Yah. …It is actually Paul who speaks of the “god of this age.” John and Ephisians both speak of the archon, the prince of this cosmos. First John, all things lie in the power of the evil one. The heavenly spheres are throned by archons and powers and principalities in Romans, in First Corinthians, in Ephesians. They are cursed by a law that was in fact ordained by lesser, merely angelic powers. Galatians quite clearly says the law was written by angels delivered through human mediators. So even the law comes to us in a defective form because the angels that govern the nations, even the angel that governs Israel apparently—the Angel of the Lord, is defective in his rule. So the world is a prison of spirits, and this is a darkness and in John it doesn’t know the true light. A divine savior descends from the aeon above into this world. In John, aionios doesn’t mean everlasting in the durative sense. It doesn’t necessarily even mean the age to come, in the sense of the future but actually refers to things heavenly or divine that exist in the aevum or aeon above rather than in the realm of chronos time. He brings with him a wisdom that has been hidden from before the ages we’re told in Romans and Galatians and Ephesians and Collasians. It’s a secret wisdom unknown even to the archons of this cosmos in First Corithians. He has the power to liberate fallen spirits we’re told in John 8. And now there are certain blessed persons who possess gnosis, First Corinthians, and they constitute an exceptional group called the pneumatikoi, the spiritual ones. …In Jude, when it speaks of psychical men who do not possess spirit, and that is always translated as “who don’t possess the Holy Spirit,” but there is no “the” and no “holy.” It means …who are without spirit. In that context, it is as much a quality of one who has been sanctified as it is an actual element or constitution of their nature. And so the savior opens a pathway through the planetary spheres, the heavens and the armies of the air and the powers on high. That is when Paul will tell us that neither death nor life, nor angels nor archons nor things present nor things imminent nor powers nor height nor depth nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God.

…So what is the great distinction? Well, God created this world. There aren’t two gods. Well, even then, there are certain ambiguities there. As the lawgiver, God the Father is not even the author of the law.

…What we vaguely call gnostic sects, …if they can be classified as in any way as heterodox (they are certainly vulgar in the mythopoetic excesses sometimes), it’s this willingness to amplify that provisional dualism into a complete ontological schism.

36:40
…If I had to say that there is one thing that these schools had in common so that you could classify them as gnostic, is that if they have a metaphysics of relation between God and creation, as far as we know there is none that has an explicit metaphysics of participation. There is not an ontological sophistication there. You have spatial metaphors like all of reality is contained within the Father who is the encompassing sphere, and I think it means that literally. …They tend to head instead toward metamyth [rather than metaphysics]. We are left wondering how literal is this, how allegorial. We’ve been taught to think that they literally mean all these things, but how do we know? How do we know that these aren’t propaedeutic figures?

41:54
…What a Thomist understands by the term angel, taking his cue from Thomas, and what St Paul thought about angels, taking his cue from the book of Enoch and Jubilees and from a long temple mysticism, are two completely incompatible things. They have next to no connection with one another.

43:44
…Interview: [Berdyaev] has the famous footnote which says, “This was revealed to me in a dream.”

Hart: Yah. Now of course I have refrained from putting that footnote with many of the things that I have written just because I don’t want to scare people. I don’t want to give them a sense of their inferiority, so the number of things that have been revealed to me in dreams, I have kept to myself. One of my favorite passages, I remember the first time I read it was when I was 18 in Berdyaev, it said: “The preexistence of souls doesn’t have to be argued doesn’t have to be argued. We just know it to be true. It’s an obvious truth of reason and experience, so let’s move on to what we can conclude from this.” I do think—as exotic and as idiosyncratic as Berdyaev’s use of these things are—he’s onto something. There is a sense in which this world is not yet the world that God creates. …This is the way that Paul is thinking constantly. Creation is that which is yet to be revealed. In part, creation is something that is constructed by spiritual natures. He doesn’t talk in terms of a demiurge. He does talk in terms of a god of this world, but …the world we inhabit is the one that has been corrupted by spiritual natures. I think he probably has a book of Enoch notion of the degree to which angels participated in this, the degree to which we participated in it. I don’t know if what he talks about the impress, the image of the celestial man, if we fully understood, but that seems very much inline with the first and second and third century mysticism of the true human who dwells in the heavenly places as the true image of God and of the Son of God. Until then, the world that we inhabit, that we create together as spiritual beings, that we perceive, that is the work of our wills in our ignorance is maya. …You know I’m trying to come up with a form of Vedantic Christianity to carry us into the next century.

Interviewer: Maximus.

Hart: Well, you’ve already got it there in the neoplatonic tradition, I just think that there are all these wonderful Indian thinkers who had all sorts of categories and reflections that can enrich the Christian treasury of terms. But actually, it’s a good term. …What does maya mean? …Appearance, illusion. …To a degree, that’s the meaning it has. …But really, it’s the same Indo-European root as maguš, magic. It’s the power of creation but it’s also illusion. It has that dual sense. There’s that kind of demiurgic distance between us and the world that is a work of spiritual estrangement from God that’s both, in one sense, natural, even physical if you want to use the Pauline language and also moral. Berdyaev instinctively understood that this is something that is actually there in the essence of the New Testament language even though he wouldn’t be encouraged to think that from later Christian thought—although in the East, obviously, many of these tropes were retained a bit more fully.

52:05
…Of course one has to tread delicately here because I’m more than willing to say that, in one sense, all of creation is a real theophany, a real incarnation, even, of the divine story, of the divine nature, but am I willing to allow that the fallenness of that history is constituent of the goodness, is constituent of the nature of God such that violence, death, betrayal, cruelty become, even if negative, nonetheless probative aspects of the divine story? That is actually not a gnostic impulse. To say that is just the opposite. The so-called gnostics …[had] absolute horror of that suggestion. The God most high is not, in any of these systems, …is in no way involved in the fall of nature. The Father remains absolutely inaccessible, unknown, incomprehensible and removed from any taint of evil, from any finitude. It is something of a point of …a neurosis in the gnostic texts that might alone explain why they go in the direction they go in—the anxiety to make sure that in no way can the evil of this world, the darkness of this world, the pain of this world in any way be attributed to the true divine nature.

55:44
Jordan Wood: I get a little bit anxious around analogy talk. …Maximus presses constantly, incessantly upon identity which is the thing that Przywara and Balthasar rule out in principle in terms of what’s able to be said from an analogical perspective. Yet at the same time, my reading is that it’s actually because of the conviction that the highest God was crucified that actually gives rise to the provisional dualism or makes sense of it that you rightly detect in the New Testament and the gnostics and so forth. …Is there a possibility of affirming both that God is incarnating into all things …such that there must be an identity between the the true history, the true creation, the true world and that that actually entails the destruction of the false dualism that we generate? …It’s actually a christological identity which opposes, so you can actually say, that because God makes Himself identical with the world in the Word, that He does not simply develop through the slaughterhouse of history because He overcomes that history by His identification with that history.

59:47
Hart: I think that you’re worrying too much about analogy in the sense that you’re thinking of the actual interval of analogy as a pure disjunction. It’s not. An analogy is a unity that is different in aspect according to which side of the analogy is given priority but that ultimately is not a disjunction or even an opposition, certainly not an antithesis. …Analogy simply is to say that there is a unity between the way in which in God all possibility is actual and the way in which in the actuality of creation there is a real collapse of possibility into finite actually. Therefore, you are looking at a participatory unity. When I say unity, I mean unity. I don’t mean participation in the sense of something that is other than God in any but a modal way. I’m going to get excommunicated if I keep going on here. But an analogy is simply pointing to different modalities within a unity. That’s different from either opposition or simple identity that does not allow for the kind of distinction that you seem willing to preserve between the true story and the false story, the way in which we are integrated into the true story. And now I’m sounding more Jensonian than I mean to or more Yale school than I mean to …But at the end of the day I’m a monist as any sane person is. We can play games with it, but any metaphysics that is coherent is ultimately reducible to a monism.

1:02:24
Since you’ve read the book You Are Gods, you know how it starts. It argues that nothing can become anything that it isn’t already. …God does not become a man …in a way that it somehow alters who He already is. Nothing that is in a man is excluded from who God already is. In the same way, we cannot become partakers in the divine nature unless we are already fully partakers of the fullness of the divine nature. Between that understood as the dynamism of possibility and actuality from this end of spiritual perception, spiritual life, from this far removed end of the ordo cognoscendi, …from the other end, the ordo essendi, the fullness of God, what is for use the dynamism of the of the possible and the actual, is a full genuine manifestation and participation in that infinite actuality that is God. I’m not sure how analogy here is a problem for you. If you don’t want to use that word, you don’t have to. You do however, have to acknowledge that there is a modal distinction between being Jordan Wood and being God the Father.

1:04:43
…You can speak of analogy of Father and Son in the Trinity. It doesn’t indicate a disjunction. …The Son is the fullness of the Father reflected, the fullness of the depth of the paternal arche, but not in the mode of the Father. However you want to define analogy, the point of the analogia entis remember, and this is where you have to appreciate Przywara, is that his claim is not that there are two distinct, separate realities that are held together in a neutral medium called existence, but that rather the one reality of being, which is the fullness of God and a dynamism in us, is expressed in these radically different and yet utterly intimately inseparable ways. The analogy there is not a gulf. It is a union under the form of a distinction but not of a separation like the divine and the human natures of Christ.

But I’m quite content for you to use the christological language instead. If you want to throw the word analogy out you can because it’s a vague word. Among those arid, hopeless Thomists of whom I spoke, the manualist Thomists, it becomes quite a descecating category of linguistic attribution and ultimately dissolves into a kind of useless apophaticism, one that’s not enveloped in a deeper gnosis.

1:09:52
Jordan Wood: …The problem with alalongy from my perspective …is not so much that it’s wrong, it’s just that it’s too abstract to say what is peculiarly true of the Christian incarnation.

Hart: I don’t disagree with that.

1:14:47
…It is true that at that time [writing The Beauty of the Infinite] I was more hesitant to go all the way towards what should have been obvious to me. In many ways, this book You Are Gods, …is a much bolder and definitive statement of my theological views than has been printed before. …It has been a movement. I’m more unapologetically neoplatonist, more fully monistic, not at all worried about the sort of things that I thought I used to have to be careful so as not to …cross over a boundary that I shouldn’t cross. I’ve become more convinced that if you really …think about grace and nature—and it is one of the good things about the revival of this whole issue of the natural and the supernatural, as annoying as it is in one sense that there are people who read Garrigou-Lagrange with pleasure. …It helps to clarify things. You have to go one way or the other. I find that whole system utterly repugnant, genuinely hideous in its implications. …It allows you to send most people to hell with a clear conscience. …Those [earlier concerns of mine about analogy, etc.] were as much rhetorical than anything else. We’re all products of the period in which we had to deal with certain supervisors, certain teachers.

1:22:06
[Of Bulgakov:] …I don’t know of any other Christian theologian in the twentieth century that got it as right and who got what was right for all of the right reasons. What is the real meaning of a thoroughly consistent christology, and I think christology really is the heart of Bulgakov’s whole metaphysics. …My conviction always ways that the notion that orthodoxy could be formulated according to the correct acceptation of tradition, that the very notion of tradition, as we think of it, is self-defeating.

1:27:16
…You mentioned the Brandon Gallaher …exchange. For him, analogia entis involves somehow denying that the being of the creature is divine being. That’s not right. There is not an analogy between two different kinds of beings, but there is an analogy within the one infinite act of divine being, between the mode of creatureliness and the paternal fullness of the godhead. ..I prefer the language of sophia to the language of analogy just on poetic grounds. I’m willing to say it’s not the same thing, but it’s near enough as to make no difference if you understand analogy correctly. …Creation must be what it is. God must create, not because of an external compulsion, but because, as the fullness of reality, this is the fullness of the freedom to create that He has, in expressing Himself fully both as God in se and in alieno or in contraria. I don’t think Przywara would ever characterize creation as contingent in a metaphysical sense (that creation and this creation might or might not have been), …in regard to the divine nature, the divine identity, the divine story of Father and Son, and of the divine humanity (which even Przywara somewhat talks about). …But if I have to make a choice between the language of analogy and the language of sophia, …then I’ll stick with sophia.

[In a speed round of “random non-questions” with a “good or bad” response with “a sentence tops of why,” we learn that Hart finds Luther impossible to dislike (and with a sense of humor more brutal than Hart’s own), likes the early Romantic Marx (the Marx who believes in play and basic freedom) and finds the late capitalist Marx very bad (wanting to turn the whole world into a factory), hates the Catholic novel (not even liking Flannery O’Connor much), dislikes some of the same things that Roger Scruton dislikes, hates G.K. Chesterton (except distributism), among many other likes and dislikes.]

his feet moving to the long-ago memory of womb kicks

“The Man Who Was a Lamp” by John Shea:

Legend says,
the cave of Christmas
where the child of light
burns in the darkness
is hidden
in the center of the earth.

Access is not easy.
You cannot just amble to a mantle,
note the craft of the crib child,
and return to the party for more eggnog.
You may see a figurine in this way,
but you will not find the child of light.
The center of the earth is not the surface.
You must journey
and, wayfarer,
you need a guide.

Even the Wise Men had to risk
the treacherous courts of Herod
to consult the map of Scripture.
They knew that a star, no matter how bright,
could not take them all the way
It is true
that sometimes angels hover in the sky
and sing directions,
but they cannot be counted on
to appear.
Besides, you are not one
to keep watch over a flock by night.

There is another pointer of the way,
a map of a man,
who when you try to read him,
reads you.
Unexpected angels are pussycats
next to this lion,
a roar that once overrode Judea.
You may not heed
but you will hear
his insistent,
intruding,
unsoothing voice.
Some say this thunder is because his father
stumbled mute from the Holy of Holies,
tongue tied by an angel who was peeved
by the old man’s stubborn allegiance to biological laws.
The priest was silenced in the temple
because he thought flesh could stop God.
The son of the priest shouted in the wilderness
because he feared God would stop flesh.
His open mouth was an open warning.

His name is John,
a man who was a lamp,
at least that is what Jesus said,
“a burning and shining lamp.”
The implication is clear:
The lamp is a torch through the darkness
to find the Light of the World.
As the lamp comes closer to the Light,
its radiance is overwhelmed.
It is in the presence of a stronger shining.
It decreases as the Light increases.
Yet there is no comparison.

The child cannot be found by competition.
The lamp and the Light meet
in the mystery of communion.
The two become one
while remaining two.
Follow John and find Jesus.
Find Jesus and find the Illness of John.

But John is not so easy to follow.
He is no toady
He lacks senility
and does not work for pay
In truth,
he is more guardian than guide,
more dragon at the gate than porter at the door,
more fire on the earth than lamp on a stand.
Opposite of the sought-after child in every way
The child is round,
this one has edges;
the child nurses on virgin’s milk,
this one crunches locusts;
the child is wrapped in swaddling clothes,
this one is rubbed raw by camel hair.
Yet they know one another
even exchange smiles.
They share a mystery,
this hairy man and smooth child.

Jesus came out of John
as surely as he came out of Mary.
John was the desert soil
in which the flower of Jesus grew.
John was the voice in the wilderness
who taught Jesus to hear the voice from the sky.
John would push sinners beneath the water
and Jesus would resurrect them on the waves.
John was the fast
who prepared for Jesus the feast.

No man ever less a shepherd than John,
yet loved by one.
If you are surprised that Jesus came from John,
imagine John’s prophetic puzzle
when the predicted “wrath to come” came
and he said, “Let’s eat!”
John expected an ax to the root of the tree
and instead he found a gardener hoeing around it.
He dreamt of a man with a winnowing fan and a fire
and along came a singing seed scatterer.
He welcomed wrathful verdicts,
then found a bridegroom on the bench.
When John said, “There is one among you
Whom you do not know,”
he spoke from experience.

So from prison
John sent his disciples to Jesus.
He will send you too.
Despite his reputation,
he is best at introductions.
It is simply who he is,
preparer, primer, pointer,
a tongue always on the verge of exclaiming,
“Behold!”

His question was, “Are you the One Who Is to Come
or should we look for another)”

This arrow of a question was sent from prison
but the bow was bent in the desert
by “none greater born of woman”
who was awake before the sun,
waiting,
watching the vipers flee before the morning
his eyes welcomed.

“Are you the One Who Is to Come”
is the question of John highway,
his road under construction,
hammer and pick and hardhat song,
“I have leveled a mountain
and raised a valley
to make even the path of the Lord!”

You
are the mountain
his sunburnt muscles
are slamming to cracked rock.
You
are the valley
his tattooed arms
are filling with broken earth.
He will trowel you to smooth,
and when there is no impediment,
when there is nothing in you
which would cause a child to trip,
you will yearn for someone to arrive
and ask the question
that guards the cave of Christmas,
“Are you the One Who Is to Come?”
So do not go fearfully
into John’s wilderness,
beaten from civilization by others
or driven by your own self-loathing.
Go simply because it is the abode
of wild beasts and demons
and, given all you are,
you will most certainly feel at home.
Wrestle with the rages of the soul,
talk to the twistedness.

Try no tricks on him.
Parade no pedigree.
Who you know will not help you.
If the children of Abraham and stones
have equal standing in his eyes,
you will not impress him
with anything you pull from your wallet.

Also do not ready your brain for debate.
He is not much for talk.
He has washed his mind with sand.
Injunctions are his game.
If you have two coats or two loaves of bread,
share them.
Do not bully,
do not exploit,
do not falsely accuse.
Do not object that these actions are
economically naive,
culturally inappropriate,
insufficiently religious.
Just do them.
Afterwards,
you will be unencumbered,
yet lacking nothing,
freer to move, to bend.
The entrance to the cave is low.

John’s desert is the place between slavery and promise,
out of Egypt but not yet in the waters of the Jordan,
Your sojourn there will burn away
the last marks of the shackles
and you will stand unfettered.
You will be between the castle and the crowd,
between fine garments and reeds shaken by the wind.
You will not lord it over others
and you will not be pushed around.
Prophet?
Yes, and more.
But in the thrill of freedom
it will take you a moment to notice
what that more is.
In the emptiness of John’s desert
you will find yourself waiting,
like a bowl that waits for wine,
like a flute that waits for breath,
like a sentinel that waits for the dawn.
You are a highway ready for traffic,
and here comes One
who seems also to have been waiting,
waiting for the construction to be complete.
The more is arriving,
and there is only one question,
“Are you the One Who Is to Come?”

Jesus answered,
“Go and tell John
what you see and hear.”

So they did.
The disciples of John returned on the night of Herod’s birthday
The music and laughter of the celebration
twisted down the stairs to the dungeon
beneath the earth.
They talked to John through the bars.
They could barely make him out
in the shadows.

“We saw a blind woman staring at her hand,
first the palm, then the back,
over and over again,
twisting it like a diamond in the sun,
weeping all the time and saying,
“I can see through tears! I can see through tears!”

We saw a lame man
bounce his granddaughter
on his knee.

We saw a leper
kiss her husband.

We saw a deaf boy
snap his fingers
next to his ear
and jump.

We saw a dead girl
wake and stretch
and eat breakfast.

The poor we saw
were not poor.

They paused.
Although there was no light in the dungeon,
there was a glow around John.
It softened the fierceness of his face
yet took no strength away
When he had preached on the banks of the Jordan,
they could not take their eyes off his fire.
Now this new light made them look down.
“Jesus said
we would be blest
if these sights did not scandalize us.

John was silent.
When he spoke,
the words had no urgency.
There was no strain in his voice.
It was no longer
the voice in the wilderness.
“The guards tell me that Herod,
panting,
has promised Salome
half a kingdom
if she will dance for him.
Surely she will ask for me
for I am half a kingdom.
I can denounce a king
but I cannot enthrone one.
I can strip an idol of its power
but I cannot reveal the true God.
I can wash the soul in sand
but I cannot dress it in white.
I devour the Word of the Lord like wild honey
but I cannot lace his sandal.
I can condemn the sin
but I cannot bear it away
Behold, the lamb of God
who takes away the sin of the world!

Yet he came to me
to go beyond me.
He entered the water
to rise out of it.
He knew I would know him when he came
even though I did not know him before he came.
The fulfillment is always more than the promise,
but if you hunger and thirst in the promise,
you will welcome the One Who Is Not You
as All You Are,
and more.
Go back
and tell Jesus
what you see and hear –
John,
not scandalized but fulfilled,
witness to his coming.

When you told me
what you saw and heard,
I knew who I was:
the cleanser of eyes but not the sight that fills them,
the opener of ears but not the word that thrills them.
A prophet?
Yes, and more.
Friend of the Bridegroom.
And more.
It was love in the desert and I did not know it.
It was love by the river and I did not know it.
It is love in this cave and now I know it.
Bridegroom myself!”

The guards clattered down the stairs,
their impotent swords drawn.
They pushed aside the disciples
and unlocked a dungeon of light
to find John dancing,
his feet moving to the long-ago memory
of womb kicks.
Who was about to lose his head to Herod
had lost his mind to God.

The cave of Christmas
is hidden
in the center of the earth.
You will need a lamp for the journey
A man named John
is a step ahead of you.
His torch sweeps the ground
so that you do not stumble.
He brings you,
at your own pace,
to the entrance of the cave.
His smile is complete,
perfect,
whole,
lacking nothing.

Inside
there is a sudden light,
but it does not hurt your eyes.
The darkness has been pushed back by radiance.
You feel like an underwater swimmer
who has just broken the surface of the Jordan
and is breathing in the sky
John is gone.
Notice
from whom the light is shining,
beloved child.

From Starlight: Beholding the Christmas Miracle All Year Long by John Shea (New York: Crossroad, 1993), 174–83.