This is the time of year when contradictions abound. Many mainline Christian traditions do everything they can to uphold the spiritual practice of Advent, a time of increasing light as they anticipate the coming of the messiah. They light each candle of the Advent wreath on successive Sundays leading up to Christmas. This spiritual Light appears in a time of darkness and ignorance in the form of the Christ child, God incarnate in human form, whose birth is celebrated Christmas Eve. He talked about what the reign of God looks like- a reign of love. What does that look like in your life and community? If you're a follower, how does it challenge you?
Of course, the churches are battling commercial forces which began planning for the 'Black Friday' shopping frenzy a year ago, and now, a sales blast which has eaten into Thanksgiving Day itself. As sentimental and nostalgic carols take up the airwaves and fuel the frenzy, the quiet anticipation of spiritual light, the significance of the incarnation itself, is relegated to third or fourth place- after feasting, shopping and -of course-football; not necessarily in that order.
Holy music celebrates 'the glory' of the season. From Abraham Joshua Heschel, an scholar, author and theologian and professor of Ethics and Mysticism at Jewish Theological Seminary comes this quote. "The perception of the glory is a rare occurrence in our lives. We fail to wonder, we fail to respond to the presence. This is the tragedy of every man: 'to dim all wonder by indifference.' Life is routine, and routine is resistance to the wonder. ' Replete is the world with a spiritual radiance, replete with sublime and marvelous secrets. But a small hand held against the eye hides it all,' said the Baal Shem. 'Just as a small coin held over the face can block out the sight of a mountain, so can the vanities of living block out the sight of the infinite light.' The wonders are daily with us, and yet 'the miracle is not recognized by him who experiences it.' (from p 85 God in Search of Man, A Philosophy of Judaism. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 1955.).
For Heschel, life is a 'burning bush' phenomenon. (See the Exodus 3:1-21 story when God calls Moses forth to lead his people and tells Moses he is standing on holy ground) This morning I heard a TV commentator comment that they'd asked a guy to name which historic figure was associated with 'a burning bush' and he answered, 'Nixon'. Spiritual literacy is at an all time high. Read and reflect on your tradition's stories. Search terms like 'light', 'incarnation' in a concordance or religious dictionary or book on world religions or symbolism.
Whatever your religious or spiritual tradition-or not, pushing the pause button to appreciate 'Life the sacred gift', is essential. Here is my prescription for the season.:
1. Take a quiet break, alone. Breathe deeply. Empty your mind. Become aware of your in and out breath, your eyes, ears, skin, mouth- the senses and spaces around you. Feel grounded. Be.
2. Bless the Life which allows you to blink, breathe, swallow, hear, taste, feel- on your own, just as you are. Be mindful of the gift that each of these are.
3. Remember your ancestors, family tree, elders and what their lives brought you to. Your own birth. What it meant/represented. How you arrived, in what circumstances. Draw insights and affirmations which sustain you.
4. Spend some time outdoors. Reflect on the glory- stars, rain, wind, snow, light through winter trees, the sound of the river. Walk. Exercise. You're on sacred ground.
5. Give something of yourself to others- a joke, a recipe, a listening ear, a drive/outing, lunch, a meal, cookies. Caring. Not a material thing.
6. Make a difference. Clean your closets; donate coats/gloves/scarves, food to those less fortunate. Think of how you can do this without going to a store.
7. Listen to special music that is meaningful and uplifting to you. (Not necessarily Christmas carols). This can be a good and amazing part of a self-care time block- which might include a bath, book, baking, decorating or other personal care ritual. (Perhaps not the John Lennon song which goes, 'So this is Christmas . . . what have you done . . . another year older . . . ' - that's his holiday 'get your house in order/taking stock' carol.)
8. Share a meal with someone who matters and put away time constraints, cell phones and urgency. Really connect. Maybe it's a friend you haven't seen for a while.
9. Try on some of the meditative and prayer practices in your religious tradition or find new ones that add meaning to your winter season.
10. Do something completely different, off the crowded path. Visit Franklin Park Conservatory, the Zoo, a museum, a trail at Highbanks Metro Park - become lost in a new experience.
Finally, reflect on what does 'God-ness' look like in humans? Who are some of the most 'God-ly' humans you know/know of?
Learn and engage the topic Christmas and Consumerism at North Broadway United Methodist Church - young adult program -Mondays at 7 p.m. through December at Global Gallery, 3535 N. High St. Call 614-268-8626 for information.
Franklin Park Conservatory 'Merry and Bright'- dazzling lights and foliage; also gingerbread houses on display.
Meditations for this post:
From Celtic Treasure Daily Scriptures and Prayer by J. Philip Newell page 198
'We light a light in the name of God who creates life, in the name of the Saviour who loves life, in the name of the Spirit who is the fire of life.'
From Thich Nhat Hanh, Living Buddha, Living Christ page 124
'When you shine the light, darkness disappears. We may understand this as a kind of fight between light and darkness, but in reality, it is an embrace. Mindfulness, if practiced continuously, will be strong enough to embrace your fear or anger and transform it. We need not chase away evil. We can embrace and transform it in a nonviolent, nondualistic way.'
Recall the gospel hymn: "This Little Light of Mine" (I'm gonna let it shine) . . .