The Charlotte News

December 24, 1937


Away In A Manger

Overexposed to fundamentalist faith in his youth, Cash thereafter had small use for conventional churchgoing religion. People who gave him up as an unbeliever, however, were mistaken in their man, for Cash always kept a Bible by his side and read Ecclesiastes with a fine appreciation of that worldly-wise Preacher whom the Hebrews called Koheleth. To Cash religion meant an experience of awe, and this Christmas editorial is typical of his emotionally moving writing, admittedly unorthodox, on religious lines.

--Note from W.J. Cash: Southern Prophet, by Joseph L. Morrison
(This article appeared in the Reader section of Prophet.)


As we like to think of it, it was very quiet and still in that simple place on that morning. Only the babe, red-faced as all the new-born are red-faced, with his tiny fists pressed to his mouth, sleeping in the stone manger. Only the mother—she was afterward to be called the Mother of God and the Mother of Sorrows and the Star of the Sea and many other fine and lovely names—sleeping on the straw with no other glory about her as yet save the pale beatitude that lies upon the face of all women who sleep after giving birth. Only the man who stood as father to the child, keeping watch. That and no more, save the cocks hailing in the lonely day, a donkey stamping now and then in a near-by stall, the hurried, sounding footfall of a traveler belated in these busy times of tax- gathering, and the soft rustle of the breathing of the sleeping pair.

These three alone in the pensive morning with the mystery of birth, and the mystery of life which is contained in birth, and the mystery of death which is foreshadowed in birth. So we like to think of them. And so, indeed, did the old primitive painters of Italy and Belgium sometimes like to represent them when the influence of the Byzantine splendor and the cult of earthly kingship were not too much upon them.

There are many facets to the spirit of this day, to be certain, as the tradition has come down to us through the centuries. And one of the best of them is that which Shakespeare meant when he recorded that,

At Christmas I no more desire a rose
Than wish a snow in May's new-fangled mirth . . .

What he meant, of course, was all those things we know best in the pages of Washington Irving—the creature delight of sitting warm and snug by the fire while Winter reigns outside, the heavy-laden tables, the fruits of the gracious and abundant earth gathered before us, the bright- faced, breathless gabble of children, the generous laughter ringing through the house, the gentle goodfellowship. And very fine and precious things they all are, we think. We do exceedingly well, we people of the European heritage, to make this the jovial, joyous day we do make it, with St. Nicholas as the symbol of it all.

But over and behind all that, though not in conflict with it, is something else—that this of all days is the day which is dedicated to the great simplicities which are the great mysteries. The whole story of Jesus is in some sense the story of man's passage through those simplicities which so exceed understanding that all men become as one before them. This is the day, then, for the humble heart and the contemplative mind—for the renewal of the sense of how strange and how marvelous and how splendid is this common way we go.

And so, it is as we have painted them that we like to think of them, these holy three, alone in the stillness of that morn, the Christmas morn.

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