'tis the season...
Years ago, I heard someone say that if Christmas didn’t exist, it would have to be invented!
I think of this comment every year when the spirit of this season begins to gather steam, rolling toward its conclusion, and bringing most of us along with it, regardless of our cultural and spiritual beliefs.
It’s true that there is a lot of grumbling about the meaning of the season, and who owns it; and sometimes divisiveness about sharing the excitement and the good will, and the calendar. But my experience is that sometime this month, most of us will experience some feeling, some behavior, some insight that moves us out of our ordinary place. This is so universally true that we have words to describe outliers. (Grinch and Scrooge!)
What is it that makes this possible?
Recently I was talking with a Jewish colleague about prayer and she told me that one of the values of rote prayer is that it can be a vehicle for moving us into the transcendent. I’m wondering if the ubiquitous nature of this season acts on us a little bit like that. We may resist the pull of the season but, because so many don’t and instead, practice the spirit of the season, it becomes contagious! You cannot escape the words and sounds of “joy” and “light” and “gift” this month, and perhaps, even for the most stubborn of us, those reminders expand into gestures of love, generosity and hope.
I received an early push into the season when I happened onto an interview with Greg Boyle, the Jesuit priest behind Homeboy Industries. Father Boyle’s ministry is in Los Angeles, working with young gang members. (https://onbeing.org/programs/greg-boyle-the-calling-of-delight-gangs-service-and-kinship-nov2017/). This interview isn’t actually about Christmas; it’s about his ministry; but it could be about this season and what is possible; and may explain why there seems to be something different about this month.
“… you’re trying to imitate the kind of God you believe in. You want to move away from whatever is tiny-spirited and judgmental… you want to be as spacious as you can be…”
Father Boyle also speaks about the late child psychologist Alice Miller, a Polish Jew who was traumatized as a child herself in Germany:
“…she talked about (how) we’re all called to be enlightened witnesses: people who, through… kindness and tenderness and focused attention of love, return people to themselves. And in the process, you’re returned to yourself.”
This is the spirit of this season, whatever name you call it, and whatever tradition you celebrate. It is also the spirit behind Prayer Soup, so I wish for all of you, the gifts of kindness, generosity and love: I hope you get them, and I hope you give them.