Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

a soul story ~

This week’s UU Weekly has a piece on the baby Jesus. We know very little about the historical Jesus, as the essay notes. The Christian Bible is the source for most of our Jesus history, and it’s not necessarily an historical exercise — that isn’t its purpose.

Author Meg Barnhouse makes the case that the story of the baby Jesus is, perhaps, what she calls a ‘soul story.’ “A soul story is a dream from the depths of a culture, not an individual,” Barnhouse writes.


I love this. The writer in me is seduced by this eloquent metaphor, even as I realise that members of my own family believe devoutly in the actual birth of Jesus, the Nativity story, and the subsequent Christian narrative. But for me, the inclusive, poetic Buddhist Unitarian I am, I love this ‘baby Jesus as metaphor for the soul’s journey’ idea.

Yesterday my doctor asked me — during a discussion of my mother’s skin cancer history, among other things — if I believed in the baby Jesus story. I had to confess I didn’t, pretty certain he wouldn’t disown my medical care, but still not sure how he’d take it.

If he asked today I would have a much better answer. Because today, thanks to Meg Barnhouse, I have another take on ‘belief.’ Each of us — I do believe — has a soul, a fragile seeking heart clothed in all the layers of protection we can amass. For me, my seeking often takes place on a page, or a screen. In a poem, an article, a blog post. Sometimes even in a piece of a class lecture or prep for one. For me, words are like the clear white stones Hansel & Gretel threw behind them in that other soul story. Words will take me where I need to go, almost always. If not my own, I can count on those of others.


Yesterday a friend posted that he loves reading the reflections in his students’ portfolios.  Students will tell you that a class in poetry — in writing about their own growth, or the growth of others — changes their lives. I told him that I really believe poetry can save lives. It saved mine, certainly, at a time when nothing else could get through.

So the idea of the soul as a tiny baby, born naked & trembling into a cold dark night, poor in material goods, but rich in blessings…? That is beyond appealing. And it is, I realise, what lies at the heart of so many Christians’ beliefs — the ‘Jesus Christians,’ as I call them, not the Leviticus ones who seem to believe only in punishment…

This winter holiday season (Christmas! Hannukah! Bodhi Day! Kwanzaa!), I wish you a journey of redemption. I wish for you a soul journey that culminates in transcendence. And I hope your days are full of light.

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