Ann-Thology Number Twelve
It is the morning of Christmas Eve. I awake to the sound of raindrops, not the hush of snowfall. It is fifty degrees, not thirty. Perfect soundtrack. Because it is a curious holiday for me.
Last month I read Dan Brown’s “The DaVinci Code” which sparked a great fascination with the true life of Jesus and the many aspects of his life that may have been hidden from us. Since then, I read “The Woman With the Alabaster Jar” by Margaret Starbird and am well into Elaine Pagel’s “Beyond Belief”. Was Mary Magdalen the wife of Jesus? Was she the favorite apostle? I feel like a snow globe that’s been shaken and I don’t know what to believe. This is the start of something good, I think, remembering that the theologian Paul Tillich said that every great faith must be exercised by doubt.
I was wishing Gigi, the lovely lady who comes to clean our apartment on Tuesdays, a merry Christmas. She said, “Thanks, but I don’t celebrate Christmas.” I asked, “Aren’t you Christian?” She said “Oh yes, but Jesus wasn’t born in December, he was born in October so we don’t celebrate Christmas”. She explained that Christmas was something cooked up by people who were trying to pacify the pagans whose timeworn customs weren’t about to be shaken by the news of Christ. So leaders of the church apparently combined the celebration of the birth of Christ with the many traditions of the people they were trying to convert and voila- Christmas on December 25th.
Later that day I was wrapping presents and happened to turn on PBS in the middle of a program about where the traditions of Christmas came from. Gigi’s story was in there. And then I learned that the tradition of having mistletoe came from the Vikings, who when in battle if they’d see the white berries, would stop their warfare because they recognized it as a sign from God to make peace. How did an invitation to make peace turn into an invitation to steal a kiss?
Last Saturday I was taping a segment on The Weekend Today Show and the book critic Bill gave me a children’s book about St. Nicholas. How did this real life Turkish bishop and patron saint of children, thieves and unmarried women get morphed into Clement C. Moore’s Santa Claus, which was inspired by the Dutch character Sinter Klaus?
At this moment, history seems to be a colossal Picasso, where fate is a Cubist, destiny a deconstructionist. I feel like those old ladies I always eavesdrop on at the Met, who, when looking at one of Pablo’s tempest tossed creations whimper “But what does it mean?”
Yes, today on this orange alert day, as I wake up with my prayers for peace and my gratitude for my beautiful family and all my loved ones, I find myself wanting to crystallize some of the essence of what has been stirred up by these quirky questions. As someone whose spiritual life has been devoted to practicing Siddha Yoga since 1991, my early roots of being a Protestant have been in transition. When I was 8, I awoke in the middle of the night to a vision of the face of Jesus, made out of a million points of blue light cast on my sister’s bedspread. It filled my heart with awe and a tremendous longing to do good in the world. Whether that was Jesus or not, whether Jesus is the Son of God or simply a great saint who had much to teach the world, he has been a reminder to me of what is possible. What is in all of us: the Divine. I have found in the last many years, that I like thinking of the birth of Christ as a metaphor for the birth of spiritual awakening. I like to think each Christmas, that there is a cradle within my heart and this child of great love has just arrived and I get to be the child and the mother and the star and the three wise men and all of that wondrous night. Just like the words of the songs I sing, the meanings of traditions, of history, of Christmas, resonate on many levels.
The days of being a child in school and believing that history was the study of what really happened are over. I now recognize that history is both the study of what people think happened and what people want us to think happened. Was Mary Magdalen in fact the bride of Christ literally or spiritually? There are many reasons why some would not have wanted us to know the truth, whatever it is. Those who were trying to make Christianity the one way, the one religion, were perhaps led to simplify the story and reduce the complexity of it all. But anytime we oversimplify the story and reduce the complexity, we threaten and sometimes destroy the balance of our true nature. I believe it is time to restore the balance of our true nature. It is time to restore the balance of male and female energy in ourselves, in our relationships and in our world. How else can we survive as a world made tinier each day by television, cell phones, Internet and travel? We need each other. We need the whole of who we are. And we need the Holy of who we are.
So, for this moment, instead of the politically correct “Happy Holidays”, I want to bravely say “Merry Christmas.” May the meaning of this day come alive for you, whatever your beliefs are. May the spirit of great compassion, generosity and love swell up in your hearts and make you cry to see your loved ones, to hear a song, to see a raindrop, snowflake or single star. And may there be enough mistletoe above us all so that anyone who’d dare wish us harm is permanently distracted by the delicious promise of a kiss and the even more tantalizing invitation to peace!
All my love,