Spirituality

What if There Were No Christmas?

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Years ago, the poet James Dillet Freeman wrote a column for Unity Magazine titled “Life is a Wonder.” A recent issue of the magazine contained an excerpt from his column called “Embracing Christmas.”

In the article, Freeman noted the annual complaints about Christmas.  You hear them every year.  “Christmas is too commercial.  What happened to Thanksgiving since decorations go up at Halloween? Nobody seems to care about the real meaning of Christmas!”

The complaints are true, and while there’s plenty more where they came from, Freeman asks the question, “What if there were no Christmas?”

Could you do without Christmas?

Let’s be honest.  There are at least a few moments–for some, complete days–when you wish  Christmas was just done.  No more frantic gift-buying for people who don’t really appreciate the presents anyway.  No more standing on your feet for hours in a messy kitchen baking and cooking for guests who stuff their faces and leave.

No more trips to that Christmas god-forsaken place called the Post Office.  No more cards, no more bolts of paper and tangled ribbon.

No more guilt when you side-step the red kettle.  No more TV messages from soldiers stationed in faraway places.  No more continual music from your city’s “only station for Christmas music” (then why do they all play holiday tunes?).

Best of all: No more You-Tube videos of families rapping in their Christmas jammies and Facebook photos of antlered pets!

Take a second to think about ALL of the above being gone.  I mean, really think about it.

What if there were no Christmas?

Now, please read these words from Freeman’s article:

“I do not think we would be the holier for giving up Christmas trees and Santa Claus and gift giving or even Christmas cards.

Christmas is a flowering. Ancient truths, too important, warm, and deep for words—truths about ourselves, about our world, about our lives—have found expression in these lovely forms that are our ways of celebrating Christmas. They were planted in our minds long, long ago, some beyond all known events or recorded memories, and they have grown through many centuries. They have grown because they satisfy in natural and joyous ways our happy fancies and our deep-down needs. We have a wish and a necessity to express our wonder and love and joy and delight in beauty and in one another—yes, and our faith that if the spinning globe we inhabit wobbles toward winter, it will wobble back again to spring.”

So maybe we go a little overboard.  Isn’t that human nature?  I don’t know about you, but when I read Mr. Freeman’s words, my heart grows a little, like the Grinch’s does before he soars from Mount Crumpit down into Whoville.

They’re both right–Freeman and the Grinch–that Christmas lies in the heart.  Christmas is there because, more than anything, Christmas is about the giving of ourselves.  Christmas is about believing that the light and joy of the holiday will illumine our spirits and cast aside the long days of darkness.

If you believe, it will be so.

Merry Christmas from my heart to yours.

Me and the Charlie Brown Tree

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I put Dad’s Charlie Brown Christmas tree up a few nights ago while I was staying at his house.  It took about a minute and a half from start to finish.

He hasn’t decorated for Christmas since Mom died; that was her thing, he’ll tell you.  He really doesn’t want to mess with the lights (Ah, the childhood memories of a dozen or more strands laid out on the basement floor to make sure all the bulbs worked.) and “all the things that just take up space.”  In truth, he probably doesn’t want to roust all those sad memories.

But last year when I brought the CB tree to Dad, opened the box and showed him how the four pieces went together (including the red ball ornament), then set it on top of the television, he said, “I think I can handle that.”

Hooray!  Instant holiday decorations.

The season of Christmas is my favorite time of year because people try a little harder to be respectful and courteous and to think about the needs of others.  At other times of the year, a store clerk might mumble “have a nice day” but at Christmas, is more likely to look you in the eye and wish you a Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays.

I like that about people.

Maybe I’m living in a fantasy world, but it does feel like people are more loving and more willing to make heartfelt connections.

I’ve read that there is no historical confirmation that December 25th is the day Jesus was born. Apparently no one knows for certain when the great event occurred.

In fact, Dr. Tom Shepherd, professor of theology and church history at Unity Institute and Seminary, writes in the November/December issue of Unity Magazine“Christmas wasn’t considered an important date until the fourth-century church, when officials decided to create a holiday commemorating the Nativity.”

Dr. Shepherd continues, “Lacking any evidence, Pope Julius I arbitrarily selected December 25, probably because Romans held two popular winter festivals of Saturnalia and Sol Invictus around that time . . . Lengthening days heralded the annual march from cold and darkness to springtime warmth and light, so everyone understood the metaphysical significance of selecting December 25 as the birth of Jesus.

As the centuries passed, the customs that make our Christmases meaningful–Santa Claus, stockings, yule logs, caroling, and this year’s Elf on the Shelf–mix with the spirit of Christmas.

I love it all and this year, perhaps more than any other, I have learned to appreciate the sacredness of Christmas, of doing what is mine to do.  Even the week’s unusual circumstances can’t derail my zeal for the holiday.

If Charlie Brown can come to believe that a spindly tree embodies the spirit of Christmas, that’s good enough for me. I know Dad’s tree has comforted me; I hope it gives his heart a lift when he returns home.

Image courtesy of writinginatree.com

5 Ways to Overcome Unworthiness (And Soften Your Heart)

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Pema Chödrön tells the story of being a lonely six-year-old girl who one day walks past the house of an old woman who was sitting out in the sun.  I know it’s hard to imagine, but the young Pema was kicking anything she could find out of frustration for feeling unloved and alone.

Pema tells the end of the story, “Laughing, she said to me, ‘Little girl, don’t you go letting life harden your heart.'”

It’s quite possible that Pema’s life as a teacher in the Shambhala Buddhist tradition began that day.  On that day, the six-year-old girl learned that she could make a choice to allow life’s events to harden her or she could  use those events to do the opposite, to soften her heart.

Buddhists call the softening bodhichitta

Pema writes, “Chitta means ‘mind’ and also ‘heart’ or ‘attitude.’ Bodhi means ‘awake, enlightened,’or ‘completely open.'”

So, what’s with the lesson in Shambhala Buddhism?

Because the character trait of unworthiness is rampant in our society.  We watch it play out every day in people who touch our lives, in the places we live, work, go to school, perhaps even worship.  Unworthiness may be hard to spot because we’re so used to seeing it every day.

Don’t you know someone who feels inferior?  Who says their work is less than adequate?  Who self-denigrates and then laughs because s/he thinks it’s acceptable to feel and believe those things?

Come on, people!  Have we forgotten who we are?

The process of remembering

We are, depending on your preference, children of a divine creator.  I sometimes call that being GUS (God-Universe-Spirit).

We are sooo much better than the untrue beliefs we hold about ourselves.  Believe me, I need to read this stuff as much as I need to write it.  My feelings of unworthiness run deep and I’ve honed them for half a century.

When we remember our true, authentic selves, we begin to unlock the habit of turning to unworthiness.

In fact, that’s the first way to overcome unworthiness.

1.  Realize that when one of your buttons gets pushed, you react out of habit. Yes, the trigger may be real, but you can change your reaction.

2.  When something happens to upset you, say a co-worker makes a hurtful, mean remark to you, do not respond.  Instead, try to find a mirror and spend a full minute looking into your own eyes.  You’ll know the truth is not what that person just said.

3.  Don’t spend time in maudlin-ville.  It’s a sure track to pity, remorse, and self-denigration.  You deserve better.

4.  Eliminate all “o-u” words from your vocabulary.  No more should (as in, “I should have . . . “), could, would or even ought.  Thou shalt not should all over thyself.

5.  Decide to begin a new spiritual practice.  It’s not hard, I promise.  If you’ve accomplished the other four, this one is a piece of cake.

Just for today–because today is all we have–I want you to feel, really feel, that you matter.  You come first, not because you’re selfish, but because if you don’t put your oxygen mask on first, how can you possibly be of any use to the rest of GUS’ kids?

I dare you to write me and tell me your heart hasn’t softened.

May your week be filled with soft landings, my friends.  Peace out.

Photo courtesy of melschmitz

Carpe Diem With Flexibility

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“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”
~ Mahatma Gandhi

My friend Carol gave me the Seize the Day paperweight pictured above.  I had just lost my job and was pretty scared about the next steps on my employment path.

Those words–Seize the Day, the common translation for the Latin phrase Carpe Diem–were my backstop when I was feeling a little sorry for myself in those early days.  Lost, confused, angry, and a Duke’s mixture of other feelings clouded those early days but my little paperweight symbolically grounded me.

I could almost feel it saying to me, “When you’re ready . . .”

Seven months later

A few days ago, I was sitting with my best friend Mac (as in Apple laptop), creating a PR piece for a client.  When I’m writing, I periodically glance around at the little pieces of inspiration scattered about my office.  I never know when one of the pictures or toys or maybe my Billy Butler Bobblehead will siphon off some kinetic energy to me.

My eyes fell on the solid, green paperweight and Gumby sitting next to it.

I actually laughed out loud!

The juxtaposition of the two objects is a complete description of the life I now live.  I have seized the day by turning my job loss into an opportunity to launch my dream of writing, connecting with people and telling their stories.  And Gumby reminds me to always and forever be flexible and fun.

Gone, well mostly anyway, are the rigid work days of dotting i’s and crossing t’s.  I am so grateful!

Gone are the days when I had to bend and twist, Gumby-like, to meet someone else’s expectations.  I’m grateful-squared!

Speaking of gratitude . . .

While cleaning out some files recently, I came across a single sheet of paper in my handwriting that reads, “4 Ways of Gratitude.”  I have no idea where it came from or the circumstances that caused me to write these four items down.  No matter, I suppose, just know that I didn’t make them up!

4 Ways of Gratitude

1.  Give thanks and praise for what you have rather than complaining about what is missing.  Take nothing for granted.

2.  Give thanks for the difficulties and challenges you face.

3.  Give thanks in advance for the good you seek.

4.  Give thanks for belonging in the world.

Aren’t those cool?  I know that some of you might balk at expressing gratitude for your difficulties and challenges you face, but here’s the thing–you can be like Gumby when you give thanks.  Bend and sway and do the best you can, but do it because you really need to seize the day that is your life here and now.

I’ll leave you with this, words from a man I haven’t met but I’ve sure heard revered during my involvement with Unity Churches.

“If you want to change your life, begin with these words, I am responsible for my thoughts, words and deeds.  I am responsible for my feelings.  I am responsible for my reactions.  I do not fear what is within me.  I accept responsibility for my life.” ~ Rev. Jim Rosemergy

Carpe Diem to you!  Seize this day in your life but hold it loosely in flexibility and fun.

We Never Walk Alone

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A couple of days ago, I woke early thinking about my friend Shannon.  You may remember  I wrote about her a couple of years ago, about how she was recovering from a stem cell transplant and for the first time in 50 days was tucking her three small children into their beds.

The first transplant didn’t do the trick, nor did the second one.  Shannon’s had some tricky, ugly diagnoses throughout her three years of cancer treatment; her journey has been one of progressions and set-backs.  Each time she and her family–including her parents, siblings and an army of friends–has rallied with an amazing sense of optimism and hope.

Transplant #3

Today, Shannon and crew begin what may be the biggest challenge yet.  It’s Hail Mary, pull-out-all-the-stops time as she enters Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital in New York for her third stem cell transplant set for August 9.

Can you imagine?  I can’t conceive of replacing any part of my body once, let alone three times.  It’s been said that God doesn’t give us more than we can handle and that the crosses we bear are less heavy when we approach them with faith, hope and optimism.  But, geez, three transplants?

We probably all know of someone like Shannon, a person we admire by the way she or he faces long odds and major hurdles with spiritual confidence.  Meanwhile, we shake our heads and wonder to our friends and co-workers how the Shannons of the world make it through their ordeals.

I believe these special people let nothing tarnish their joy because it never occurs to them to act any differently.  Many of us would curl up in a fetal position and wait for the raging storm of life to pass.  At a minimum, we’d sit in Starbucks railing about how the world had done us wrong.

The Shannons out there aren’t trying to make the rest of us look bad.  On the contrary.  They aren’t even aware that they give us an incredible gift by teaching us how to face our own travails.

No problems, only mountains and valleys

I believe another reason why people like Shannon soldier on is because they understand that life is ebb and flow, give and take, mountains and valleys.  We human creatures were not born to have our lives stretch out in a straight line of even circumstances, although sometimes we think that’s what we would like.

But then we’d miss the glorious view from the mountain top and the curtain of rainy mist in the valley.  One necessitates the other.  Comfort lies in trusting that we will eventually walk through the valley of the shadow, as the Psalmist said.  We don’t linger there forever, trapped in gloomy conditions.

At some point the path will grow steeper and we’ll see the sun rising over the mountain range that’s just come into view.  The rhythm of life continues.

Shannon believes–and so do I–that the third time is the charm.  The radical approach to her treatment will eradicate all cancer cells in her body.  She will have to spend a more significant time away from her kids, missing birthdays and scout camps and probably Thanksgiving, but the short-term loss is worth the long-term gain.

She’ll be around to watch them grow through their teenage years and college.  She’ll get to watch them marry and then bounce their children on her knee.  Her hair will eventually turn grey and her knees may creak and groan.

Through it all, she’ll celebrate the sanctity of the precious gift of life and know that these months in New York, 1,000+ miles from her kids, was a valley she had to walk through.

Thank God she’s not walking alone.  None of us ever walks alone.

Photo courtesy of shebaduhkitty