John the Baptist is a powerful figure in the Christian tradition. However, he remains far away from our immediate experience, not only as a historic figure, but also as a personification of something that prepares the way for the birth of the Divine in us. The question: “What does he have to do with me?” is fully legitimate.
Although I knew about his special role as the inner witness and lived with this over many years, he remained for my understanding in a vacuum with his special function. I could not connect him with the concepts I was familiar with. Only after I had worked with the strong and painful memories of my childhood, it became clear to me where and what he is in my inner world.
I could verify him in my mature old age through the descriptions of my experiences at Christmas time in my early childhood. These memories of the state of being at that time became alive. Being a small child, I did not have the concepts to describe these experiences, but in the light of recognition the formulation now becomes possible.
In our Western culture we have problems with what we call “I”. There is a lot of confusion over the different views on the “I”. Some spiritual and religious trends give values to it, others devalue it, or even mean that it does not exist at all. One can get lost in meaningless discussions and does not realize that the I has various dimensions.
John the Baptist is normally seen as a historical figure who lived 2000 years ago. Among the Christians it is difficult to find anyone, who understands the meaning of him as the witness in us. The witness, as it is said in Matthew 11,11: Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has risen no one greater than John the Baptist. It continues: Yet even the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
In the figure of John the Baptist is personified our little I. The story of John the Baptist is the function of our small “I” in its developed state is described, with its values and limitations. In the process of incarnation we all experience that this small “I” is built in us to become the forerunner for the “light of the world”. The root of this experiences lies in the idea of man in Eternity, beyond time. Therefore, it takes place in the process of becoming a human being in the eternal now. His function is essential until “the uncreated light” becomes active. After that it will not be needed later. This is the meaning of the story in the Gospels, which ends in his decapitation.
The tension is growing before Christmas. Waiting for the miracle that would penetrate the limits of grey everyday life; life from which the glance of enlivening is missing. What should this miracle look like? The child can only sense it – she does not even know that what she longs for is called a “miracle” in this world. It does not know that what she hopes from Christmas cannot be found on this planet. It does not know that this longing is already the remembering, the real remembrance. It does not know, that it is the longing for her source, for where she comes from. The longing for the lost paradise beyond time, (and not, as it is said in psychology, the longing for the tight space in mother’s womb). The roots of this longing are beyond the two cells, which, from the beginning of time make it possible, to go a Way and which simultaneously blocks the way back to paradise. Through the fusing of two cells it is held firmly in the painful process of incarnation. The child remembers none of this; she simply senses the longing, which through the wonder of “Christmas” promises fulfilment…
The child had not yet quite arrived in this world and it was exactly the disappointments which put her in touch with the ground of carnal reality: disappointments seen with the eyes of the grownups from the outside or interpreted by intellectual understanding, is of no importance. Expressed in other words and in its own child’s language, when nothing was “as real” she learned to take it for granted that “the real” seemed to be beyond reach. This experience was repeatedly confirmed. The longing for “the real” remained. That is why she had made all the efforts all her life to find “the real” …
Then came the day when Christmas was so close that she did not have to sleep even one more night. The day when the Angel would bring in a Christmas tree, like she did every year at Christmas. Once again, the tree would reach all the way to the ceiling. From the floor to the ceiling was the whole of three and a half meters; she had no idea that not all children lived in such high rooms. Everything was different on that day, different from the usual. She was not allowed to come out of the room - the room where she slept with her parents and her sister and brother – to the “dining room”, the room without windows. “The room must be prepared” she was told. There was a lot of coming and going, also father was home – it was only after the Russians marched into Budapest in 1945 that he also had to work at Christmas.
With those who came into the room where she played – could she ever play? - came also the smell of pine. The child was excited, wanted to come out as her nose already knew what her eyes had not yet seen. It was said: “You are wrong, the Christmas tree is not yet there”. She believed her mother’s words rather than her own senses. Later, lights were flickering through the frost glass of the door. These were surely the electric lights of the Christmas tree! However, she was told again that she was wrong. The child was brought into an unbearable tension which she was not able to dissolve. The core of the conflict was built on the one hand by the longing for something that did not come from the familiar grey world, and on the other hand by clear sense impressions which had shown that it was a matter of quite common happenings. The longing of the heart for the miracle was stronger than the clarity of the sense impressions. Trust in the statements of the mother was unshakably greater than the belief in her own understanding. The child did not trust herself – after all she was a girl.
Finally, the waiting was over, the dusk spread out. Father came and wrapped the girl up to her head in a woollen blanket to bring her to the grandparents; the way to them went through the courtyard. It was said that “outside it is very cold”. Something flashed on the screen of the girl’s consciousness; somehow this cold could not be true (she did not yet know that this was a thought), because in the afternoon when the large window was opened for ventilation a mild wind blew gently in through it. Nevertheless, this connection was so fleeting that it faded quickly before she could really look at it. The thin light blanket had a good smell, gave security and the renewed contradiction got mixed with other impressions somewhere in a region where it was not necessary any more to find out what it was. The inextricable difficulty of reconciling this twisted ball of different realisations grew in her.
Then father went with the little daughter through the room where the Christmas tree would be placed later in an instant by the Angel. She was brought in the other flat of the house, to the one where the grandparents lived. The smell of pine came through the pores of the blanket. The confusion in the head of the little one was growing. Who should she trust? The parents who were feeding her deep dormant wishes or her own senses? This was an irresolvable conflict for a three to five-year-old little head! It had taken the work of her full life to disentangle the yarns of the skein and weave the threads into their own place. She will learn in the course of time to put aside and preserve the threads of different questions that cannot be used in the present. Somehow these threads will find their place in the fabric of her understanding in a natural way.
Grandmother was in the kitchen. She was busy with the preparation of food for Christmas dinner. It smelt like fish in paprika sauce. This smell was a basic component at Christmas Eve. The fish had to be very fresh: it was fetched alive from the marketplace a few days before and could be admired when it was swimming in the bathtub until the afternoon of the 24th of December. This was her first impression of “fish” and for a long time the concrete representation of fishes in general. She loved the food prepared by her grandmother. From her kitchen, to which the door was often open, lovely smells entered. In the home of the little girl, it never smelt so good.
After a while a little bell with clear sound gave the sign for all to come, the Angel had brought the Christmas tree and the presents. The children run back into their home and the Christmas tree was indeed there. This gave a further conflict for the small but clear head: how could it all take place? How could the Angel charm in a twinkling of an eye such a big and even fully decorated tree into the living room? Not to mention all the presents lying under it? This was beyond her understanding from all she had so far got to know in her life. The Christmas scene, a picture clipped out of carton was also always there. It was simply called the manger, although all the figures were together in a stable. The girl had so much wished for “the real” three dimensional figures!
Understanding against belief in wonders. Realisation against statements. There was no time for pondering. Neither would it have made any sense as the instrument for discrimination was not yet formed in her. There was as well no one there with whom the little girl could have talked with about what confused her. Therefore, she had to find for herself an explanation of what it was. The logical conclusion was: “I am small, I do not understand it, but I must try so that everything again is understood and fits harmoniously together”. The girl was quite sure, without a sign of any other possibility that it would all be put together harmoniously and understandably. It did not cross her mind to ask someone. One would perhaps say that she lived still in the memory of paradise. I would express it in this way: she lived in the memory of Love, in the memory of Unity, as if there was no separation and therefore no contradiction. Experience, however, showed that everything fell apart, something broke and she could not join the separated parts together again. All her life she tried to find this unifying force. For a long time, she would not know that it is Love, what she is looking for.
At this time, it was a matter of falling out of paradise, of waking up in this world, where “nothing is real”, nothing, as the little girl again and again detected.
The glamour of the Christmas tree was in closer look also not “as real”. The perfection of the miracle was missing. The way the pine tree was decorated released the same unbearable feeling which in the summer was caused by continuous rolling down of the socks and made them look messy and awful; despite this, they still had to be worn. At all times there was the unbearable tension between how things should be and what they are.
Then she sensed clearly the expectation of the grownups that she should be happy and thankful. But she found though no trace of it in herself. She should also see beauty in what was not beautiful. All this was going on in her, silently without a noise. Between “should” and “is” grew even further conflicts: she should be happy – she sensed the expectations of her parents as pressure – and she was disappointed. That the Christmas tree did not have any celestial radiance was already a disappointment. And the feeling in her was not as it should be, this was simply unbearable. To avoid more tension, at least the parents should not have been so disappointed. So, she pretended that she was happy. She had early learnt to show herself to be glad, at peace and reasonable. Later in life she will often pretend, not to cause disappointment for others. Simply avoiding in this way more conflicts. The psychologists would say: she was excessively adaptable. She will have to go a long way to comprehend that she does not have the power to fulfil the expectations of others or to take away their disappointments. These conflicts break out sooner or later. This was perhaps the greatest disappointment in her life…
But there was another event, which with time led to a harmonic end. In one of these early Christmases the mother had the idea to depict the beating of the Angel’s wings with a sheet of linen behind the frosted glass of the door. For the little girl this seemed theatrical. To be touched in the heart – as a sign of the “real” – was again missing. However, she was not so sure of her case and, so she played along. Even as a grown-up woman, until the death of her mother, she said nothing of this issue. Before mother died at high age, she had been in her heart very pleased that she had managed to evoke the miracle for the heart of the child. Was this a lie? We often live in bigger lies in our life, also when we believe that we are honest. It was good that mother was happy with this little illusion of having prepared the joy and that this was not taken away from her…
Back to the Christmas tree. Christmas songs were sung, every year the same. Father accompanied them behind the great black grand piano, which stood in the overfilled bedroom. One could only with difficulty get through between the piano and the beds. The presents under the tree draw much more attention than the singing. Again, with mixed feelings, of course.
I was already looking forward to a porcelain doll with which my mother for weeks had attempted to awaken my excitement. “She has real hair, she can move her arms and legs and open and close her eyes.” My expectations had been raised high. What I then saw was a sweet head with messy hair. As if I had not enough difficulties with my own hair, which was never “nice and straight”! The legs and the arms of the doll were in fact ugly: they were far too long and with their imbedded balls at the joints their natural forms were broken. In comparison to this doll the very much smaller rubber doll that father had brought from Germany was much nicer, even though it had no hair and no moving joints, it at least looked like “real”. Whenever mother thought that I had been a good girl then I could have this doll for one or two hours, after which it disappeared every time in a cupboard at a height beyond my reach. This new doll was from the beginning a big disappointment. It closed me up. The claims of the grownups, quite apart from whether the doll was nice or not, confused me, because now again I had a different sensation and the opposite view was promoted with plenty of effort. I was desperately looking for what I could not recognise in myself, what I was not seeing, as I could not doubt what the grownups were saying.
However, love cannot grow from lies and pull wool over someone’s eyes. Out of something that is not true. Surely not in a child’s heart. Love is not born from convincing by talking even with the best intentions and motivations behind it.
The disappointment with the doll joins the earlier disappointments. For example, the year before at Christmas there was the small doll’s cooking stove. From a distance it looked like “real”. It also had a little hotplate. But I could not heat up the oven and of course not really cook. Mother gave me raisins and showed how I could play with them. I did not want to play – I wanted to cook properly. I felt misunderstood and that I was not taken seriously. The little stove soon stood in a corner unnoticed. Mother interpreted this in her own way.
The doll cutlery received no attention from me for another reason. In one of the two forks, which both looked like “real”, a tine was missing in one. Therefore, the whole set was useless. Everything that was imperfect had no value any more.
I like my thick painting book with drawings. It challenges me to paint as I wanted to paint; the figures of the Snow-white and the seven dwarfs, like in the Walt Disney film. I particularly like the dwarfs. The pictures are nice; they are clear, and I could imagine how they would be in colours when I painted them. I want to paint everything very nicely, picture by picture and page for page. Right from the start without faults, carefully, perfect. I see the notebook ready, colourful and without faults. I feel the power and the pleasure of the challenge that I take. But it all goes differently from what I imagine. Somewhere on the third or the fourth page there is a tree. It should be green, of course with a brown trunk. I am deeply concentrating to paint the tree nicely and regularly within the lines of the drawing when mother sits down by my side. She was an artist although she had not finished her training to become one. She tells me, that a tree never looks green, but it has yellow and blue and all the other colours in it. She takes the brush from my hand and the tree becomes painted colourful without any consideration of the lines – for me it looks messy and chaotic. My tree is destroyed. With this the whole painting book became useless. There is no point in going on; the book could not possibly become perfect. I will never take it in my hands again.
“She has no persistence. She quickly loses her interest in everything” … As if it makes any sense to continue! …And there is no one around who could really see me: as I “really” am. On the outside I am surrounded by something that is not “real”. I know: no one is seeing me as I really am. The knowledge of this is somewhat pacifying; it gives me a feeling of security.
It must have been around Christmas time too, when my uncle – who then was a student and generally had no time for me – took me into his lap and wanted to show, how a human being is drawn. Again, a joyful expectation. I had found it difficult to imagine how I could draw a human being. Now he is going to show me and convince me that it was not at all so difficult and that I could also do it… He then draws a man with simple lines, like one does for children. What takes place in me is not just a disappointment; it is more like feeling sick. I can express it better today: it is a shame. The whole of it is shameful. Something in me is deeply hurt: the human dignity. I am ashamed for the whole happening, not for him or myself, but without separation for what is going on. The questions, like if he thought I am so stupid or that he did not himself see what he is doing do not turn up at all. Guilt had not yet been born. It is unbearable to be a part of imperfection.
All this happened before the small imaginary I had fully been torn away from Unity. An attempt away from Unity had taken place, but the separation was not yet complete. The “I” and the world were not yet disentangled. In all human beings it is consciousness that must define the limits to what is unbearable and sort it out. In children, this always causes the first “not me” to appear. It is a necessity to detach oneself from the pains of birth in the becoming world.
The core of this little I – the one we also describe as the core of the ego – is this “no”. This little I is the forerunner of the real I: it must “prepare the way” for the birth of existence. This detachment means that we do not agree with everything that happens to us. As human beings we can resist. Later though the basic “no” is so self-evident and well concealed that we can no more recognise the true nature of our ego. We will then have to withdraw from all the coverings and forms of appearance in life – into the desert – so that we can recognise the core of the imaginary I that says no.
There was no visible violence against me as a child. But the unbearable belongs to this world and none of us can avoid it, however much the parents make efforts to avoid it. When offences against the child take place more openly then we can explain psychologically where all the traumas of the soul come from. Beyond this is the more basic and comprehensive law: to come down to the incarnation means the experience of separation, pain and loneliness. The concrete daily events are the catalysts and help us to wake up in this world, which is a necessary preparation for the birth of existence, the Jesus of our being, who is “one with the Father”.
To be part of the imperfection hurts me even now, even at 70. Yet this pain does not kill me anymore and it does not make me close up. It has no more the power to make me look for the guilty one; not in the world, outside myself, or in myself.
Guilt is a mystery, a load given to human being, who is innocent. Our soul, like the innocent princess in the fairy tales, will be captured and kept as the prisoner by the evil dragon until someone comes and frees it. There are no reasons given in fairy tales to this imprisonment; the question “why?” never arises.
“In the beginning the evil breaks in where there is a crack in the wall. Later the evil can only attack in places where there are remains of the wall left.” To “protect” oneself makes no sense any more – it would mean going back into separation. The separation in the child takes place because she or he could not bear life with all its contradictions. To be hurt is a part of the contact within Unity that has again been found. Without guilt of any kind, without separation between others and me. In this world a sensitive membrane of the soul guarantees an exchange only – being wounded is one aspect of it. I do not want to miss this vitality; it is being nourished by the freedom which is related to everything in life. These pains are the pains of the world giving birth in the grips of becoming. I take part in it as I am no longer the little weak child. This is freedom. I am taken along by the flow of time and can get the nourishment that my soul needs from the overflow of impressions – produced by the vitality of life itself. This is powerful food and it needs a well-developed digestive system. If the nutrient is sweet, sour or bitter in the end plays no role any more. I have become grown up. Naturally there is left in me a part which still “likes some things” and “does not like” some others.
In a few days we approach the time of Advent. The rays of the sun in the morning flow deep into the room. The last “Queen Elisabeth” roses are in the vase in sunlight looking “as real”. The ivy and the two ferns which I had combined with the nearly leafless rose are in the crystal vase give a harmonious picture with light shining through it. The place of the rose is also fine; perfect? – No! A small edge of the vas is broken. Earlier I would have got stuck on this. “Typically, the vase is not without fault – it is from mother.” This pettiness does not disturb me any longer. The knowledge of the imperfection of this world belongs to it; without this knowledge, the perfection of God would lack something…
When I remember the child with my whole being, then I know, it was carried. What I am today gave it safety, which it needed in its loneliness. No, it is not logical, there is no causality in it! But the child and the matured woman build beyond time an inseparably unity. They are only in time separated from each other.
Now I know more about the child, than I could know in those days: the miracle that the little girl was waiting for is harmony. Without the tension of irritating emotions in the air, beauty in the course of an evening, the feeling of security which all of us are taking their own part in it. And above all: Christmas, which cleans away the steady feelings of guilt that I am not “as real”. Joy, simply untarnished joy. That is what Christmas should be – it is Christmas today.
What the child did not yet know was that harmony can and must be created anew every moment out of the soul. The knowledge that the world is created anew every moment had been forgotten by the child in the process of incarnation into further and further tightening world. How could the little girl know this? She had not yet developed the premises for this remembrance. To be able to discriminate, and to be strong enough to realise what has been recognised, we need to go the long and strenuous Way from Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem.
We can only start on this Way when it is first prepared by John the Baptist. The little “I” must first develop its ability so far that it can become the witness, the observer. John the Baptist in us needs time, a long time, to become grown up, to grow up to fulfil his function. Only then the little “I” is in its function for which it has come into this world. The building of the ego is a necessary stage in the development for the preparation of the birth of existence in us.
First the child must go through the separation, to separate itself form Unity by the “no”. Everything that becomes solid limits itself and becomes resistance. That is Galilee. * Jesus in us can conceived only there but cannot be born there. The He can only be born when we find the solution – a solution is something which is not solid, but a flow! This means: when we dismantle the walls that led to separation; when we allow the limits to be broken; when we change from saying No to saying Yes.
The identity of existence, of the Godly child, is to say Yes. This child will only then be born when we are not occupied in our heart by the one whose identity is to say No. Then essence of the new I is one with the Father, His identity does no more come from separation. In connection with this He can say: “Thy will be done on earth”; without lies, without conditions, without separation.
We all begin the inner Way in Nazareth, in the solid place built of the structure of life that says no, in the land of form, in Galilee. However, we have our origin in Bethlehem, in the house of bread. All of us without exception. Let us start on our Way to find again our home. So that the splendour of Christmas can lighten up in our heart.
* Read more in Agnes Hidveghy: The Birth of Jesus in the Gospels as inner Experience