Our readings, too, can be liturgical, helping us to meditate on the mysteries that we celebrate in faith. Paul Claudel, converted one Christmas day, is thus the author of works imbued with the light and mystery of Christmas.
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On Christmas Day 1886, while attending Vespers at Notre-Dame de Paris, Paul Claudel was as if illuminated by faith, which he would never leave. His literary work, immense and quite unique, is imbued with the spirit of the Nativity. It also gives a unique place to the Virgin Mary who will have accompanied him on his way to Christ, the one he knew when he heard the Magnificat.
The Claudelian theater found its completion in The Satin Slipper, a four-day play published in 1929 but little staged given its length (twelve hours of a highly eclectic baroque text). Its subtitle alone gives indications. “The worst is not always sure” warns the playwright at the start of a plot that relates impossible loves between Prouhèze and Rodrigue.
Protagonists who never stop looking for God
The whole piece is then a tension between the deep faith of one and the other of the lovers and the calls of the flesh. And, as if covering the paintings with her maternal mantle, the Virgin Mary. It was to her that Prouhèze confided, offering her one of his shoes as a pledge: “I leave it up to you! Virgin mother, I give you my shoe! Virgin mother, keep my unfortunate little foot in your hand! […] When I try to rush towards evil, let it be with a lame foot! (1st day, scene V).
Throughout this comical and mystical text, the protagonists do not stop looking for God – Prouhèze is helped in this area by her Guardian Angel who brings her back to the essential – who arises in the most human desires. Like a meditation on the incarnation: God himself, in his son, arises in the world to purify our passions and direct them to true love.
More known, The Annunciation made to Mary, published in 1912 after several decades of eating, is even more explicit. The beginning and end scenes are punctuated by the ringtones of theAngelusa traditional prayer commemorating the fiat of Mary and the incarnation of the Saviour. In the midst of the peregrinations of characters locked in their contradictory and jealous desires, it is the Lord himself who makes himself present. Eternal, God comes in time.
Mysteries beyond comprehension
While Violaine, against all reason and morality, becomes leprous after having kissed her sick lover, it is she who, little by little, takes on the face of the Virgin Mary until she revives the dead child of her sister Mara, envious but vigorously believing. As during the Annunciation, this piece narrates the “possession of a soul by the supernatural” as Claudel himself explained.
Violaine’s leprosy, as a sign of her sin, leaves her alone in her family, and even causes her to lose her betrothed, married by her sister. Abandoned and alone, Violaine learns little by little to let the Lord act through her and heal her inner leprosy, failing to preserve her from her illness. The supernatural that she ends up welcoming and which reflects on her entire family, who has become capable of forgiving, becomes the figure of redemption. By taking our flesh tending towards sin, does not Jesus himself show us how to forgive?
It’s what you don’t understand that’s the most beautiful”
On reading, all this is not obvious. But, as Paul Claudel says, “it’s what you don’t understand that is the most beautiful”. Whether God is that little child in the manger or that a sick woman can bring forth life, these are mysteries beyond comprehension. But contemplating them should open us to things from above. Like the night that surrounds the two sisters, the darkness of their hearts and their relationship is also illuminated by the life of the child.
First of all, The announcement is a call. The call to pray without ceasing and with virulence like Mara. The call to know Christ better as the father, Anne Vercors, who leaves for Jerusalem as if suddenly magnetized. The call to welcome the life that God gives us, in his delivered body, in the manger of the manger.
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Claudel, this Christmas Christian
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