“For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6)
What would it have been like to see the Christ child lying in that manger on Christmas Eve? Surrounded not by kings, queens, and others of royal stature, but by barn animals and shepherds? With the glory of God shining in His face?
I can’t think of a better place for the baby Jesus to have been born than a stable, surrounded by donkeys, cattle, and sheep. My favorite place is at the barn, with the horses who help me in my healing work with people who are wounded by the cruelty in the world, both intended and unintended. Women abused by the men who promised to love them. Children violated by adults they thought would protect them. Adolescents drowning in loneliness and fear in a world they don’t understand surrounded by adults who don’t understand them.
A recent poll revealed that parents today are more worried that their children will marry someone outside of their own political party than someone outside of their race or religion. We have somehow come to this place where we cannot have a civil dialogue about differences of opinion but retreat in fear to our trenches and hurl grenades at each other based on sound bites, tweets, and misunderstandings instead of seeking the common ground that unites us all: our common humanity and the dignity inherent in being made in the image of God.
The wonderful thing about horses is that they simply don’t care what color your skin is, or who you voted for, or what zip code you live in, or what size you are, or what your sexual orientation is, or what kind of car you drive. They only care about whether you intend them harm, or good, and whether you are present and congruent with your feelings and attitudes. Their brainstem reads your body energy and decides whether you are safe or not. You can be angry, or sad, or lonely, and all they ask is that you acknowledge that feeling state, be honest about it, and let them be present in it with you.
“God is love. Whoever lives in love, lives in God, and God is in him . . . we love because He first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, who he has not seen . . . whoever loves God must also love his brother.” (1 John 4:19-21)
Catholic monk Richard Rohr points out our “unlovable neighbor” is often our “shadow self,” those parts of ourselves we deem unacceptable, unworthy, too shameful to acknowledge or embrace. Part of our journey towards maturity and wholeness is the act of accepting the unacceptable, not because we want it or see it as good, but because it simply is, and if we don’t come to a place of acceptance we will forever expend our energy in fighting this reality rather than putting that energy towards change. To the degree that we cannot accept and love ourselves, we will be unable to accept and love each other.
Yet God’s love for us is unchanging and undiminished. When we do not feel loved by God, it is because we are not experiencing His love, rather than that He has withdrawn it from us in some way. His promise never to forsake or abandon us holds no matter how far we have wandered or how deep our shame or how confused we are about the course our life seems to have taken. As we begin a new year, I hold onto the hope I have in Christ, who fulfills the promise: “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.” (John 1:5)