I've lost my notebook (again) that I kept on the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in the summer of 2012. I remember wanting to write a poem on this topic and roughing in some notes. I shared the ideas with a friend who was also on the pilgrimage. She laughed but then gave me that arched eyebrow look. I'll admit, I loved that look on that face and would trade two Pacers tickets to see it again.
Anyway, when you are walking through Galicia in August, you notice how beautiful the world can be. And how shitty. Galicia is a special place, parts of it as removed from the modern world as a place can be. A lot like parts of Ireland, I'd say. Only shittier.
As you walk the pilgrim way, headed toward Santiago and the shrine of St. James the Apostle, you pass through a lovely green world, hedgerows full of berries, heavily forested hills, rolling farmland, a patchwork of tiny plots still farmed the old-fashioned way by families who have lived on the same land for centuries.
And as they move their animals from barn to field, from farmland to village, they move them across the only roads there are, roads that double as village streets, the pilgrim way, and animal paths. Roads filled with beauty, history, and shit. In the daylight, you had half a chance of walking through those bovine minefields unscathed, but in the darkness (especially the two hours of darkness most pilgrims walk to escape the summer heat) you'd be a lucky devil to emerge merd-free.
And I'm not even mentioning the Italian bikers who would find all the good pit-stop-sites in the bushes before anyone else (since they were traveling at ten times our speed) and leave their gifts for the poor slob walking pilgrims who'd be coming the say way by mid-afternoon.
Yes, I'm just an adolescent boy, and my so-called mind just runs this way. (Runs, get it?). You can think that, and you might be right (thought I doubt it). More likely, you just don't want to read something so disgusting on this Holy Night, the night of our dear Savior's birth.
That's fine with me. Think what you want and be as sensitive as your nose tells you to be. Butt, as I was walking through shitty Galicia those days, I thought immediately of what it must have been like for certain poor shepherds and pretty much everyone else back in the hill country around Bethlehem when God became an animal (if the stories are true).
Hey, I'll admit it; we have come a long way. And I'm perfectly fine with plumbing and indoor toilets and designated shitty roads from the barn to the field so that the ones I walk one, ride on, or drive on are, at least, relatively clean. But the "highway for our God" that John the Baptist preached, like the road that Joseph and Mary took on their las posadas pilgrimage from Nazareth to Bethlehem, was almost certainly pretty shitty. In fact, that whole O holy night, was probably a pretty shitty one as well, except for the stars brightly shining.
Quick check list: there was sheep shit, cow shit, donkey shit, dove shit, not to mention mouse droppings and microscopic bug poo. By Epiphany there would be camel shit as well. I imagine that certain poor shepherds had to go occasionally and just did it in the fields not too far from where they were sleeping when the glorious angel host of heaven brought their tidings of the same. And, if somehow those shepherds didn't have to go before, I'm sure they did after meeting angels.
And, though I'm sure some people (maybe Augustine) think Mary was spared the indignities of being a physical, created human being, a highly-evolved mammal with amazing capacities for thought, communication, and reflection, I am just as sure they are wrong as I am of why Rorie the dog must be taken out for a walk. Mary had a baby, my Lord! She puked, she shat, she peed. Oh, and her lovely mother's breasts filled with milk for the Son of God.
Don't even tell me that Joseph didn't have the nervous shits that night, catching a quick smoke behind the barn.
And although the old song says "The Little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes," it doesn't mention whether he did or did not make anything else worth swaddling. I'd have to say that if creation and incarnation mean anything, he did.
It gets worse. Or better, depending upon your poo point of view. Butt, the important thing is this. I realized those days in shitty Galicia, that the world of Jesus and Mary and Joseph and the donkey and the shepherds and thousands of people out in the wilderness to hear Jesus preach and then getting hungry and then having to go, was a world full of shit. Ours is too, of course, but we hide it better and do our best to keep the smell and the flies away. We build different roads for life and religion so that our religious roads stay clean and spiritual. Perhaps because were are more platonist than Christian. More spiritual than Jesus or God ever were, or ever intended us to be.
We are little animals. We eat, drink, suck, shit, cry, mate, suckle, age, weaken, die, and rot. We are more than little animals. We think about, talk and write about, reflect on and respond to these animal facts of our existence. And we also meditate on the fact that such powers are ours.
Fact is, the first Christmas was not clean. There's a purity or a holiness that is embedded in and emerges from (but doesn't rise above) the shit. We are embodied and embedded, and the incarnation tells us that God took the risk of meeting us on that level. His coming sanctified all this shit for all time.
In this age when spirituality and fastidiousness are easily, and wrongly, conflated, when technology preaches that perfection is a kind of smooth stream of energy without resistance, we need to hear the message of God who came to us not on a computer or a live satellite feed or in a secret mathematical code. He came in egg, blood, piss, feces, the general mess of birth on earth. This too was good. More than good. Now, it was God. And, despite what some early Greek church fathers might think, it didn't smell like perfume.
Take care of your animals tonight. Look at them and say, me too little Rorie (or big Sonya). Me too. And remember, we have been gifted to consider these things. To meditate on them, ironically or otherwise. "Cradled in a stall was he with sleepy cows and asses (ha!)," in the words of the 15th Century song we sang tonight. He came to save us. Not to make us shitless spirits. Why would he want to do that, having made us bodies in the first place?
Dear fellow pilgrim. If I've offended you, so what? How is that even important in the great scheme of Advent and Christmas. You saw the title. And I frontloaded the shit in the piece so you'd get plenty of it right out of the chute. Don't get me wrong either. I don't like cleaning up after my dog and I didn't like changing diapers. I just don't ignore reality and allegorize my fastidious preferences into a spiritual theorem about existence. God's nose gets bent out of shape over more important things. He sees and smells things differently than we do. Shepherds shitty sandals are holy. Herod's brightly polished Pradas are pure poo.