AT CHRISTMAS: WHERE CHRISTIANS OFTEN MAKE A MISTAKE
Where Christians often make a mistake is in their assumption of ownership of the holy child, of being chosen by, or being blessed enough to choose, the child and the creator of the child.
Through their belief in the child, in their alleged revelation of the child’s holiness to them, they presume that they, in some ways, co-created the child on earth.
The holy child predates Christianity and belongs to all spiritual practices in one form or another.
Child of promise, child of hope, child of celebration, child of deliverance from the wilderness and rescuer from the dark.
Child of light.
Child is light. The same.
That child is our child... the one that lives in us and in each of our children, regardless of the framework of the story, myth and history in which we place that sacred child.
We were and are that child.
This is central to every unifying spiritual practice that humankind has birthed. It is our child in itself, those stories and those places where the child stays safe, the mangers and light in which those stories arrive and the illumination, the haloes, that are their gift to us.
During times of remembrance and celebration of the Child, during the holidays that celebrate the coming of the light and the beginning of the new year we are called to revisit our obligation to keep that Child safe from harm, inside us and in the world.
We are especially called to remember this as we go forward, shadowed in the gathering momentum of the planet's demonic expressions of our collective genetic and blood link to the child: child‘s blood in a cell, in a classroom, in a cage at the border, drowned in the watery passages of refugees and slaves.
When a child is murdered in those ways, when we allow it, we allow The Christ Child in all its incarnations the world over to be killed.
We bloody the coming light.
We murder the child of hope and tomorrow.
7 OBSERVATIONS FOR FAMILY GATHERINGS
1. Your family is not particularly unique. Every family has its own multigenerational legacy that passes on its traditions of attachment and detachment, pain and strength, and how it practices love.
2. Before the age of agency children have little power over their relationship with their parents. That relationship and its legacy are almost wholly the responsibility of the parent.
3. After reaching adulthood children build responsibility and independence out from under the legacy of their relationship with their parent. At a certain point in life, how an adult child goes through the world can no longer be said to be the “fault” of the parent/s.
4. Take care when telling children stories about other family members. As often as possible, let family members tell their own family stories or parts of those stories to children in the family: “It’s probably better if you let grandpa tell you about that”; “Well, you know, that’s Aunt Joan’s story to tell, why don’t you ask her [email her, talk to her on the phone] about that?”; “What I remember is only one part/my version of the story, you should ask your uncle what he remembers if you want to get a better idea about what happened”
5. Purposeful emotional or actual physical estrangement can be healthy ways to manage unresolved, active, family grief and trauma. Family perpetrators often count on others to bear the burden of the harm they have done and do (see #1). You needn’t be ‘present’ for, or a co-dependent to, that.
6. You do not have to talk about things or participate in gatherings that hurt you. You can choose to focus on good memories, build new ones with new people and/or choose to relate primarily to those in and outside of your family who practice love in healthy and affirming ways.
7. If you have a happy and affirming family that likes to “get together” despite its problems and difficulties (and those families do exist!) why not invite others not so fortunate into your family circle for some events and holiday gatherings? Chances are you have already!
A CHRISTMAS STORY
How could she know angel
was angel before her, a cold ice
thing with appendages hardly still
out from every limb. They took her
by surprise, she took them
for thieves, a bad dream, demons
in the well of what of the world
She went on about her day
but the beings would not desist. They clung
in the hot air like crazed
not pretty birds. “You
can have this child!” they spoke
to a virgin, a woman
unto herself, not allowed
in the big house of the patriarchs
How could she know the cold
these angels come from?
She stayed behind her simple machines, she
made cloth, sewed clothes, nailed shoes
and filled molds with hot wax, lamps
with oil. There was no time
“You are blessed, you are
chosen!” they sang so loud
she pushed the vision away, swung her broom, spit
the needles of her hatred of men,
of the rich, of priests who make god
a luxury no woman can afford, and of these
with nothing from their thighs
to make them want.
She pulled at her hair.
Her nephew, already walking, and foretold
in the same insane way, shat
and demanded tit the way every man did.
What is holy
in pissed on rags and yowling?
The angel voices became the same
as dogs, foaming
in the boned hills above the town.
They could not concern her. She
wanted no man and the soldier
would not claim her, the merchant, the Pharisee
would not claim her.
She would be left to feed the howling thing
until he could speak enough to ask
for his own bread
and even then it would be up to her hands
to pound it.
Let god care for his own son,
let the rich in the temple clothe
his scrawny ass, let god hear
the pitch and final agony
of a birth the land may have no food for.
Blessed art thou among women my eye, she said,
blessed among women my ass.
(originally published in the magazine "Changing Men")
AND SO THIS IS CHRISTMAS; AN UNBELIEVER'S GUIDE TO BELIEVING
It’s hard to write anything original about Christmas. Holiday self-help advice gets about as original and moving as the countless bad renditions of holiday songs playing non-stop from the first of November until the New Year.
So why am I compelled to offer it?
People try. It’s charming really, the effort made by everyone from the smallest tot to those most advanced in the art of grand and great-grand parenting, to observe the weeks called “The Holidays” with glee and hope for renewal and connection. Why?
Who really knows? But it goes deep, doesn’t it, even deeper than the way many of the world’s spiritual traditions invest those weeks around the North’s winter solstice with significance.
In reality, the holidays aren’t easy.
And often, they aren’t nearly as much fun as they are made out to be. Many years we are left with the feeling that we have failed at the true test of the holidays, failed at being “happy”.
The Holidays, as they are promoted, are like a giant pressure cooker: the pressure to be happy, to spend what we may not have enough of… money, time, love, friends, family… the pressure of the idiotic idea that material gifts can buy or even symbolize the complicated and multifaceted nature of connection and love.
We count what passes. People, homes, friendships, age, health. What else? This is something that seems unavoidable as the world spins and tilts us away from the light, and we get ready for the long stretch that leads into longer days, the growing season, the hope… the hope FOR hope.
We measure change. It is in our DNA; packaged in these things we call holidays. And sometimes I think they have been almost completely co-opted by a materialist perspective that tries ever so diligently to rob us of our connection to the deeper meanings in the season, the sobriety of it, the losses, the deeply felt idea of potential, and its tentative hold on what we wish the newness will grant us. Just as likely it can rob us of the simplicity of having fun and celebration.
The fact that the holidays’ truest visions are so powerfully denied by the dominant materialism in the culture only accentuates their power over us. In that denial of the full range of the nature and meaning of darkness turning toward a gradual rebirth of the light, we are forced to deny our own inner revolutions… the necessary changes of living. That turning, those inner revolutions, persist, even if we are fearful about what is ahead; even if we read in our collective dreams the coming of storms and droughts, of pandemics, the real and symbolic potential for poor harvest.
It is easy to be led away from truer observations of the season through a hoarding mentality that gets reflected in make-believe, manic, over-abundance, a release of endorphins through a compulsive purchase that shields us from very real trepidations that we are required to feel to be fully human... that we are required to feel to prepare ourselves for the deep and abiding challenges that lie ahead.
How do we rescue THAT? How do we rescue that when THAT is the reason for the season, that teeter-totter balance between what we love the most and what we fear losing the most or may have already lost? The yin-yang of what is new and why it must come and that which must be left behind?
We may cut a tree down. We may take out the heirloom ornaments and lights. We may contemplate each sparkling story as we hang it from the tree or light a candle. We may try to ignore the passing of the solstice season all together.
We may laugh with others, we may walk quickly into another room to shed deep tears, we may hold on to whom ever stands near and feel the real warmth of how we could not go forward into an unsure future without that kindred heart beating… beating, beating….
All this empty buying! What does it signify actually? What does it mean?
This season, I think I will vote to suspend my disbelief in the inviolability of the turning of the year and how this time of the year is the most appropriate for that deep affirmation and inner assessment.
I think I will give in to the invitation the world makes and drink from all its tribal and even pre-tribal wells of genetically imprinted profound knowledge that these darkest days have always held for me and for my predecessors, our so-called primitive ancestry that could not know that the great dragons and Manitous that lived in the blustery winter sky were even more frightening than they could imagine, more frightening in the reality of their random emergence and arrival; that they could just as easily snuff me and my entire world out so quickly that the blinding flash would never be seen by me or anyone like me.
I will attempt to believe in the season’s magic as if I had never used a wheel or made a loaf of bread.
I resolve to reject happiness and joyfulness uninterrupted or undefined by great sorrows and fears.
We are a species of connection. We are a race of lonely seekers. We live in a space of simultaneous opposites. It is a premier fact of the phenomenology of our being and always has been.
We hold the spear and shield of repressed terror as we approach one another; we grope in the fire light for signals that we belong with one another, walking into the New Year together. With food. A drink of water. A remedy for our ills.
Just as we have only begun to understand our own brain’s workings, we are also only starting to fathom our planet and its cradle in the slurry of space. We are simultaneously moving with it into an era of the unfathomable. It has always been so.
And so this is Christmas. And what have you done?
I promise to make a study of remembering during this solstice. To remember and work to allow tears and gratitude. To relax the automatic tightening of the well of my throat that keeps the sobs from rising up.
I want to miss those who I have loved who are no longer here. I want to hold on to the countenance of those who walk with me still.
I want my gifts to always be in hand, those inexplicable things that leap from soul to soul, and still know them as parts of the interlocking secret metaphors for what is at the core of why we remain a mystery and a treasure.
We, our gifts, exist even when we appear to be so completely inconsequential to the order of things as they spiral around and over us, as they cover us in darkness, blind us in dawn, as they grow incredible Sequoias and fill the hot vents at the bottom of the sea with the soup of our ancestors.
And I want to laugh. It would good if you could join me. Because no matter what lies before us, we are here now, and it is good.
Here in the north
when wind blows
you can hear the sweet seas.
Then the snow spirits arrive
and everything is light
on the darkest day of the year.
We move through the day
slowly in remembrance,
in that sleepy cook in the kitchen
way beyond sins and grief
or because of them.
Everything is white blossoms
out the dark windows and the lights
through the neighborhood even
as they mask painful certainties
are an inkling, a warm kernel
of what has been lost and what
may be found. Everything,
even gifts and candles
become still with welcome.
Here in the north
when wind blows
you can hear the sweet seas.
When the snow spirits arrive
everything is light.
IN SPITE OF BEING NON-CHRISTIAN
I want to admit, in spite of being a non-Christian, that I love the sacred music of the solstice season. The link below is to a fine rendition of a favorite classic holiday song.
This is my take on the song’s message:
In the human collective, the consciousness of “god” (that which is greater than us) evolved until an awareness of the human incarnation of that “god” was said to be born among us, to us, to guide the collective's yearning to find ways to heal it's wounds, our wounds... many self-inflicted.
Be silent.... hear this great event as it should be heard...because the great alchemy of “god” becoming in and of the world, of “god” being born among us, brews within us and within the spirit of our great illuminated intersection with the divine... with that which is greater than ourselves.
We cannot see it... but we can hear it... if we are silent as it is born....in each one of us, and in all of us all at once.
Every spiritual tradition has this story... this expression of the great collective yearning.