Christmas for the Poor in Spirit

July 2007, 7:30 AM. Fourth floor of Mt. Moriah Student Center, just one of many apartment-type dorms in Nasipit, Talamban.
I face a wide sky about half bright and half overcast, with moderately gray cotton clouds marching like an army at the east, careful in their step, so it seemed, not to trample on the tallest buildings in the cityscape. This part of the city appears greener than I often notice, and the wind unmistakably bolder and colder, more enlivening than a dozen air-cons. This is the kind of wind that brings with it nostalgia of long-ago mornings in the countryside after storms—when most vegetation are leveled but the day has never felt fresher in the panorama.
Nearby four birds toe the edge of a roof like an amateur squad. As they try to take off after a few trots, a sudden gust cuts their flight short and sends them clumsily back down. They gather themselves gleefully, like a toddler rushing back to the shore at her discovery of waves, chuckling all the time. Not far from them, another bird perches on a makeshift TV antenna that seesaws when he alights on it and again when he leaves.
Within a major metropolitan center in the country, nature is alive, and playful. “Beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them,” says Annie Dillard, in an observation on a mockingbird’s landing. “The least we can do is try to be there.”
On another day what awakes me is the swiftly shifting scent of butter cooking and kerosene stoves, along with the dawn’s remaining mist, fish frying, and garnished squid. This place is crowded with houses of all kinds—with roofs rusty in paint or in nature, others beige or tan—and teems with the sound of birds and distant roosters, laborers hammering, mothers yelling, laundry water pouring, and the faint roars of vehicles on the main road some eighty meters away. This is the world I am in today, though I have not realized it for a long time. It is a world I never would have guessed, but it is as good as any as far as being awake to one’s world is concerned. And for all my semblance of being a middle-class modern guy, how impoverished I really am to have let it pass for so long under my nose, eyes, and ears.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, Jesus said, and presumably the poor in body as well, those with so little to go on that their lifestyle is bound close to the earth, its seasons, its livestock and fowl, its crops, its bounty, its rawness. And how hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom, including those too busy and sophisticated to take the time to enjoy the wonder of the created world, which God called good, very good. Which, in fact, he had the good sense to try himself, taking the form of a Middle Eastern infant boy who probably had an unmatched sense of wonder at nature, whose birth is an event henceforth remembered with rich celebration.
May we find the blessed poverty in all this richness.


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