My Christmas tree this year is a beautiful Frasier fir, for which I paid a whopping $45 at Kodey’s Tree Farm on the first Sunday of December. It meets my late father’s minimum requirement that it scrapes the ceiling of my living room. But in honor of my Dad, there’s no way it could have come into the house until it was almost Christmas (my family followed a now-almost-extinct tradition that the tree did not go up until Christmas Eve because the preceding weeks of Advent were a time of spiritual preparation for the Big Day and very much NOT part of the Christmas Season).
Celebrating Christmas by spending money on all sorts of trinkets and gifts has been the norm for several generations. Not that there’s anything wrong or immoral about it. Giving gifts to those we love, to make others happy, or simply for the sheer joy of celebration are all good things. So is the yearly reminder of our yearning for a peaceful world that’s embedded in Christmas cards and the lyrics found in Christmas carols. But somewhere along the way, we’ve allowed ourselves to be distracted from the central meaning of this holy-day.
There is more to Christmas than just Christ’s birth. It serves as the beginning of epic, and Advent is the prologue whereby we prepare for the first spellbinding chapter. There’s a thread running through Christmas that ties into so many other Christological elements, including Christ as Divine Lover, in concert with the poetry of St. John of the Cross, whose feast aptly coincides with the Advent season on December 14.
The Advent season is a time of hope—but many of us are feeling as though our hopes have been trampled into the mud. It’s hard to hope for anything now. The future looks dark, terrifying. To continue to hope seems like whistling in the dark. It almost seems safer, less risky, to abandon all hope, batten the hatches, and prepare for the worst.
Gratitude leads to a transformed lifestyle. In gratitude for this good Earth, we are challenged to be stewards of our blessings. Thanksgiving inspires care for the Earth and reverence for its manifold diversity. It also inspires appreciation for our human companions. The Christian scriptures counsel, “Pray without ceasing” (I Thessalonians 5:17). Ceaseless gratitude brings forth light in you and in all creation.
The miracles Jesus performs in the Gospels may strain our modern credulity. The Celts, however, were quite comfortable with stories of the impossible being possible. They lived in a world where the Otherworld was so interwoven with this world that nothing surprised them. Another reality could easily overlap with everyday reality, causing all sorts of strange things to happen.
Thanksgiving is at the heart of the spiritual journey, whether you are a monk or a parent. Thanksgiving roots us in the graceful interdependence of life and reminds us that none of us ever makes it through life on our own. As a child, I learned the “A-C-T-S” formula for prayer—adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication. As an adult, I seek to cultivate the spirit of gratitude essential to my own well-being and to the well-being of my relationships with family members, congregants, colleagues, students, friends, and God.
A tsunami of "me first and damn the consequences" populism sweeps western electorates. Commentators liken this to the millions who elected Hitler in the 1930s or to the hordes who destroyed the Roman Empire in the previous millennium. They fear that a new Dark Age may threaten us.
The following of Jesus is not the same as following the teachings of a church. Nor is it the same as sitting and resonating with the scriptures. You do not just follow the teachings of your garage and its mechanics nor get by with the meditational absorption of the owner’s manual. No. You have to drive the car.
"…and I have multiplied visions, and used similitudes…" Hosea 12:10
The Originator is speaking through the imaginative realm of a poet seer. The imaginative realm is not “just his imagination.” When the mind is opened to the cosmic, opened beyond animal fantasies of food, sex, and entertainment, when boundaries fade away, vision comes. Mystery unfolds, words come. From where do they come except from beyond? Beyond the skin boundary, beyond the narcissistic gaze of self reflection, beyond the chit chatter of self talk. Beyond.