Hearing Happy Holidays and Seasons Greetings admittedly make me sad, a little hollow. Not because everyone should celebrate what I celebrate. These salutations just don’t say enough about what this time of year offers humanity. Even as a year-round Christian, I don’t know if Merry Christmas says enough for me. Maybe I am wordsmithing, which has been known to lure me down a rabbit hole on occasion but when Stacey asked if I might write a little piece for the Willowjak site for all folks at this time of year, regardless of faith or tradition, I timidly said I would try. I pray not to offend.
I am immersed, you might say, in the Christian lens of the season. My second career serendipitously landed me as a lay (A.K.A. no religious degree, but a lifetime of experience that kept showing me faith was the way to make it through life, for me) youth and pastoral care worker at a United Church in town that’s immersed in the gospel of inclusion and social justice. I am a Mom to 3 almost grown girls and a Golden Retriever with attitude. My life partner has a smart head for business and a mushy heart. Besides my flock, I love reading, road trips, the sun, lakes and oceans, the smell of patchouli, broad- minded people, craft beer and good coffee. I struggle with winter, anything technical and confrontation.
So firstly I will say, I am not a door-to–door faith peddler or street corner evangelist with a bullhorn. In fact, I don’t bring up religion in conversation very often because for me it’s experiential which is personal, and not memorized verses and well-crafted belief statements. Faith for me is more heart and less head, more doing and less saying, it is the silence between the words and it is somewhere you never get completely but in the travelling your tank is filled. John Lennon captures it well for me:
“I believe in God, but not as one thing, not as an old man in the sky. I believe what we (I) call God is in all of us. I believe that Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha and all the rest (spiritual guides) are right. It’s just (our) translations have gone wrong.”
I believe faith is the longing in our very core, our centre, by whatever name we call it, and that it is in all of us. We all awaken to it in different rhythms and durations and intensities and translations but it is at the centre of all of us, whatever we call it. It is what connects us all.
And whether it is Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Diwali, Yes-Virginia-there-is-a–Santa-Claus Christmas or For-Unto-You-is-Born–this-Day Christmas, or, or, or …. that animates the season for you, it seems this season stirs up our spirit, our centre. For some it’s in a Bah Humbug kind of way and for others it’s the most wonderful time of the year and for most of us it’s somewhere in between.
I read an interesting quote that said if you are a spiritual person you are very aware of your centre, where spirit resides. The spirit of Christmas (and I extend to most other winter celebrations) is what Scientific American calls “a code of generosity, kindness and charity”. Getting in the spirit is what motivates us. Getting into our centre. Finding our “code”, our core.
Each Christmas with the kids at church we talk about the excitement of Christmas, or the spirit of Christmas, and what it is that they love so much about this season. You know, maybe their parents have trained them well, but they never say the gifts. They talk about family, lights, and traditions and as we dig deeper we talk about a feeling that Christmas brings to them and they even point to their belly almost, arms motioning, trying to describe the feeling they love and where they feel it. It’s in their core. They are describing spirit to me, a space of longing deep inside them. It feels bubbly and hopeful. It hasn’t yet been put to words. It is innocent and yet, oh so wise. As kids the feeling manifests in excitement and maybe in adults it often manifests as Christmas frenzy. Harlan Miller says that we go haywire at Christmas because we don’t know how to put our love in words.
So maybe the thread of all this pondering is to find the words to tell our stories. Willowjak is offering such a wonderful platform for stories. They aren’t all easy stories to tell or to read, but they reside in our centre, deep in our spirit, in our core, where love resides. We read them and they read us.
Each winter celebration and family tradition has a story to give it form. Tell your stories this holiday and then let them read you. That’s how spirit works. Where are you in this story, this tradition, in this time? Each of us has volumes of stories to be sorted by both form (what we do) and spirit (why we do it) into our own code. Begin to sort yours, to put words to what you love about the season so to avoid the annual frenzy. The restrictions that COVID is placing on seasonal celebrations this year is perhaps offering us all a chance to notice what we love most and then to create a new code for the season we celebrate.
The holiday traditions give us form, a physical way we see and do the holidays each year, the things that keep us busy and doing but all the baking, wrapping, decorating, and frenzy will only make us weary without consideration to the spirit of what we are doing. Ramakrishna, a Hindu mystic, said it well when he said “Honour both spirit and form, the sentiment within as well as the symbol without.” Honour the spirit as much as the tradition. Honour the unseen as much as the seen. For after all…. “sometimes the most real things in the world, are the things we cannot see.” (Polar Express)
Banker turned stay-at-home mom turned full-time pastoral care worker and youth minister. Mom to three young adult daughters (Shy Liza and Amy plus one more we might someday convince to write for Willowjak as well); a wife to one amazing guy; and a caregiver to many. Laura is a firm believer that staying connected with your people, a good cup of coffee, a good book, and a good day by the lake is good for the soul.