I regularly receive the email newsletter The Pause from On Being, the NPR show that is hosted by Krista Trippet. I find it a fascinating read as many of the articles seem to espouse Biblical values even if those same articles rarely appeal to the actual Biblical narrative. Given that we are rapidly speeding our way toward Christmas a particular vignette caught my eye this week.
They were telling the story of Parker Palmer and a particularly difficult time in his life when he was suffering from clinical depression. The story was very simple. He had a friend who came by his home every day at 4 p.m., sat down, and just rubbed Parker’s feet. Few words were spoken. No advice was given. No self-care reminders were offered. Just a simple daily massage of Parker’s feet in near silence.
Palmer wrote of this experience that “…somehow he found the one place in my body where I could feel a sense of connection with another person, relieving my awful sense of isolation while bearing silent witness to my condition.”
Reflecting on this, he added, “The human soul doesn’t want to be advised or fixed or saved. It simply wants to be witnessed — to be seen, heard, and companioned exactly as it is.”
There is something deeply profound about this statement. I believe that it touches the very heart of the Christmas story. A cursory glance at this statement may leave us wondering whether Parker Palmer actually challenges the meaning of the Christmas story. We know that the literal translation of the name of Jesus is “He saves” and the Christmas carol Silent Night proclaims “Christ the Savior is born, Christ the Savior is born.”
“What do you mean that we don’t want to be saved? Doesn’t this crack the very foundation that the Christmas story is built upon,” we might ask. Parker Palmer says, “The human soul doesn’t want to be…saved. It simply wants to be witnessed—to be seen, heard, and companioned exactly as it is.”
I wonder if active salvation and silent witnessing don’t necessarily have to be opposites. I wonder if there is a connection between being seen and heard and being saved. Often when we think of the saving power of Jesus we think of our need to be rescued from something. I wonder if Parker Palmer has uncovered a deeper truth of the Christmas story. I wonder if God’s act in Jesus was not about saving us from our sin, but was simply an act of witnessing, seeing, and hearing us exactly in the state that we are and, as a result…saving us from our sin. I wonder if Jesus’ motivation was simply to witness and to be present and that salvation became an appreciated and much needed by-product.
Parker Palmer tells the story that his friend did not actually rescue him from his clinical depression. But he did say that in the act of simply being with him, witnessing his struggle and pain, and massaging his feet, that Parker Palmer was eventually rescued and “saved” from his clinical depression.
Yes, Jesus saves. But I wonder if this act of God through Jesus on Christmas morning was really more an act of simply being with us exactly as we are—content and discontent, believing and questioning, joyful and hurting. Strangely enough, the power of being seen and heard often saves us in the end.
Maybe God didn’t show up in Jesus in order to save us. Maybe God came just to be with us and to massage our feet and our souls. And because of God’s silent, witnessing presence we ended up being saved anyway.
“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”
O Come, O Come, the one who is simply with us.
“Silent Night, Holy Night.”
Silence, witnessing, presence, being seen, being heard. God with us.
What more do we need?