Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Long Time Ago in Bethlehem

this is the time of year when we hear phrases like "jesus is the reason for the season" or "keep christ in christmas" or "it's ok to say 'merry christmas.' "  this obsession with christmas as a religious holiday is offensive.  there are millions for whom jesus is not the reason for the season and for whom "happy holidays" is a far more appropriate sentiment than "merry christmas."  even most christians don't really celebrate christmas as a religious holiday.  if they did, they'd avoid the commercialism that is the season's most striking feature, they'd eschew decorating their homes weeks or even days before christmas eve, and christmas would be celebrated until the day of ephiphany, rather than ending abruptly on december 26.

as far as i'm concerned, the christmas season has become, and ought to be, a time that is primarily secular.  i can't subscribe to the mythology that is part and parcel of observing christmas as a religious holiday.  it's likely that the historical jesus was not born in december.  the vision of angels in the sky proclaiming good news and extending wishes of peace to judean shepherds is lovely, but unlikely.  wise men traveling from the east as they follow a star to a barn where a holy child lies in a manger is fun to sing about, but that's probably a fiction as well.  that a virgin could give birth to a member of the godhead is a myth appended to the story to elevate jesus from a man to a god.

we can try to " honour Christmas in [our] heart[s], and try to keep it all the year" as dickens has scrooge saying in a christmas carol.  "peace on earth and goodwill to men" is an admirable wish that we would do well to recall during this season and throughout our lives.  reverence for the poor, as the holy family certainly was, is a worthy lesson to take away from the scene in the cattle stall, and the elevation of the status of a young jewish woman can serve as a call to address the ill treatment of women everywhere.  there is much to learn from the christmas story, but to insist that the story in the bible is literally true diminishes the larger truths that are the reasons for the story.

christmas is a universal holiday, not just a christian one.  it is a part of the traditions found in many faiths in many parts of the world that look to the light in the darkest time of the year.  these celebrations of light are a sign that the human race has hope that darkness is a temporary state, that the light will return, that the cold will be replaced by warmth that nourishes life, that love will triumph over hate, and that, as martin luther king said (paraphrasing theordore parker), "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."  this, for me, is the message of christmas, rather than the narrowly christian view that the season belongs only to christians who espouse orthodox theological beliefs.

may we keep christmas in our hearts, as dickens would have us do.  may we not worry about how to properly celebrate the season, but rather may we take joy in the prospect of peace on earth and goodwill to all.  may we not worry about whether jesus is the reason for the season or about keeping christ in christmas.  may we instead kindle the spirit of the loving jesus in our hearts and extend that love to all.  shalom.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

On the Road Again

my wife and i will be traveling for the next couple of days and will not have internet access.  i will try to post later in the week when we return from our trip.  until then, may we all have a happy thanksgiving.  shalom.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Let Every Heart Rejoice

what is happiness?  lately, some events have occurred that caused me to feel sad and hurt.  yet beyond the sadness and the pain, i've been surprised that i'm still a happy person.  i can address the suffering without the underlying sense of well being in my life going away.  at the end of each day, i go to bed glad that i'm alive and filled with a sense of joy and accomplishment and looking forward to the new day that i hope will come.  i can't account for this happiness, because it's something that's relatively new, something that has happened over the last two or three years.

my wife and i have been through some difficult times: making a move that was physically and emotionally draining, having to adjust to a new locale where people have different customs and points-of-view and where the climate and topography are not what we're accustomed to, separating ourselves from old friends and our church, living farther from our daughter and her husband.  despite the pain of these adjustments, i've still been happy.  it's hasn't been nearly as hard to give up so much that is familiar as i thought it would be.  our lives are filled with so much natural beauty, and many of things we enjoy most, like a variety of good restaurants and wonderful shows and concerts, are easily accessible.  as we looked at our calendar for the coming weeks last night, it was filled with day trips to places we love and events we look forward to participating in.

but my happiness is more than these superficial activities, more that the busy-ness of every day life.  i can't describe it, but i know that it is something that is different within me that i wish i had experienced throughout my life.  part of it is, i suppose, an awareness that passing joys and pains are just that--passing.  they are not the core of who i am.  while i may enjoy a concert of beautiful music as it happens and have fond memories of it far into the future, the joy that it brought and continues to bring is not the source of happiness.  my happiness is far deeper and much more a part of the "me" that i am.  it's something i don't fear losing, because i know that it can't be taken away by external events.

as i go forward, i hope that this sense of happiness deepens and that i can share it with others.  may each of us find such happiness.  may others be made happier by our own happiness.  may we see fleeting joys and sufferings as passing moments in our lives that leave our basic happiness intact.  may lovingkindness and respect flow from us because we are filled with lovingkindness and respect for ourselves.  shalom.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

A Time to Every Purpose Under Heaven

it is that time of year when the trees are covered in leaves of red, yellow, and gold just before they fall to the ground.  here in the mountains, fall has been especially colorful this year, and, as we drive through the countryside or look from our deck, we see displays of nature at its most beautiful.  we've had our first frost of the season and the first freeze is predicted for later in the week.  the pilot on the gas logs has been lit.  the flames have danced in it for several evenings already.  the hvac system has been switched from cooling to heating.  daylight saving time has ended, and all the clocks in the house have been reset to "real" time.  we're already a week into november.  before we know it, thanksgiving and christmas will be over.  2018 will soon end.

there's something magical about autumn.  you breathe it in as the crisp, clean air enters your body.  the cycle of change that occurs each year takes precedence over the humdrum of everyday life.  i'm reminded that there are large arcs that govern our existence.  the changing seasons are a part of these patterns.  like the regular rhythm of nature, our lives have a rhythm.  we move from the dependency of infancy to the increasing independence of childhood and adolescence to young adulthood, then middle age, followed by becoming elderly, and finally our lives end as surely as the year comes to an end as december becomes january.

i've reach the next-to-last stage in my life's cycle.  like the characteristics of the seasons of the year, each phase of life has its own beauty.  i must say that old age has been a wonderful time of life for me.  i have the luxury of planning my days without being governed by a clock.  i can rise when i please and go to bed when i please.  i can eat when i'm hungry, rather than eating to conform to someone else's schedule that is imposed on me.  i can plan my days around what i want to accomplish rather than what an employer tells me i must accomplish, and, if i want to be lazy, i don't have to accomplish anything at all.  i have a freedom that i've never had before.

sure, there are aches and pains.  i don't move as fast as i used to.  i take more pills.  i tire more easily.  in spite of all that, life is good.  it is as if i spent my whole life preparing for this time, and i'm enjoying being in the last chapter of life before death puts a period at the end of the last sentence.  last night, my wife and i pulled out our calendars and began noting the dates when we are going to concerts and going to visit family during the upcoming holiday season.  we got excited about the future that is ahead of us.  it's so wonderful to know that our lives are not bound by the requirements of getting up at a certain time to do the work that someone else has decided that we must do.  instead, we go when and where we want to go.

may each of us look forward to a life filled with expectations of good things to come, and may we have memories of happy times past.  may we appreciate each season of the year and of our lives.  may we celebrate the changes that life brings.  may we relish the living of every moment.  shalom.