Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Seasonal Inspiration 5

Happy Christmas. May the spirit of the season be with you this day and in all your days to come.

This is the fifth collection of material based around the Christmas season that has inspired me...I hope it fills your soul to overflowing as it has mine...

The first piece highlights the spiritual importance about waiting, about allowing the season to settle into us and to prepare ourselves for the magic that is to come, but to do so in a watchful and wakeful sense. I have come to believe that in order to truly experience the spirit of Christmas we need to take time to look over the lives we have lived and the world in which we live today; to examine our whole lives, both the light and the dark; to take time in the dark and prepare ourselves fully to open up to what has been, what is now and what might just be; to find the light that we can travel and live by and to not only follow that which is beyond us but open ourselves fully to it and invite it to grow within and through us and to wander on.

“Waiting” by Burton Carley

Teenager Mary waited. She waited to know the meaning of her pregnancy. She waited for the moral judgement and its shunning effect. She waited for the verdict from a man she hardly knew except for his reputation for righteousness.

Troubled Joseph waited. He waited to understand the meaning of Mary’s pregnancy. He waited and he knew not why, for it was clear what was expected of him. He waited to quietly end the planned wedding.

Mary and Joseph waited and both dreamed. Mary dreamed of wanting her child and how that child might have a future. Joseph dreamed of not keeping the letter of the law but keeping Mary. Now they found themselves waiting to arrive at Bethlehem on a journey they did not want to take, compelled by dreams and a census.

In the overflowing town, Mary and Joseph waited for a place to stay. They waited as all parents wait for the birth of a child. They waited without knowing how the mystery of their dreams would unfold. They waited while listening to the cry of the newborn, relieved and strangely joyful.

Mary and Joseph waited and watched as their first-born grew in stature. Mary waited as she saw keener perceptions revealed in his eyes. Joseph waited and watched as he saw in the driving of a nail some grace and strength beyond the rough-hewn skills of a carpenter.

The couple waited as the spirit took their child. They waited in the destiny of dreams and decisions, still wondering what they had done. They waited in hope and fear, as parents do, for him to find his place in the world.

And the child who was theirs and not theirs at the same time, could not wait. He went into the world seeing its wonder and sorrow, and he urged those about him not to wait any more for their place in it. Everywhere he went he carried with him the experience of love that waited for him and would not cast him out. He waited with compassion for the least and welcomed them, giving them a holy place, all the while remembering Bethlehem.

...This piece explores the wandering nature of the Christmas mythos, suggesting that this is a universal experience and that we spiritual seekers today are perhaps still wandering and a little lost...Aren't we all still looking for that star? Aren't we all still searching for Hope?

“Christmas Eve” by Kathleen McTigue

All these centuries after the story of the star,
the wise men, the baby born in the stable
And the angels singing him in with their mysterious alleluias,
we are lost and wandering still.
We stumble at every step over our own greed or need, our ignorance or fear.

Bethlehem is not a gentle city tonight.
Its people are wise in the ways of the clenched fist, the broken truce.
Marked like them with the scars of ignorance and sorrow we come to Christmas baffled as any shepherd by the music that sounds so high above us, the syntax foreign to our sceptical hearts.

Yet we try to speak the language of hope, lifting ourselves toward the future with a dream of what yet may be.

We remember that the heart of Christmas is hope:

hope that a child. Born homeless and in danger, may grow up to be wise and kind;
that the stars, serene in their darkness, have something to teach;
that there are mysteries around us, among us, singing thereal harmonies.

New hope in ourselves rise then, too:

That we will learn, one day,
and in the nick of time, how to walk our paths with truth and justice,
how to bring peace to life on this earth, how to sing for ourselves the angels’ songs of praise, wonder and joy.

This next piece is about discovering what me might really want for Christmas..."What do you want?"

“All I want for Christmas” by David S. Blanchard

This is the time of the year when we ask – and are asked – what do you want? Shall it be another tie, a new pair of gloves, a book? We ask and we answer. We shop, we wrap we ship. And the season usually comes and goes without us ever really answering the question: What do you want?

Some of the things we want we might be afraid to ask for because we can’t be sure what we would do if we got them. Many things we want we don’t know enough to ask for. Most things we can’t ask for because we know no one can give them to us.

Most people ask the question without any interest in really knowing, yet it can be a question for each of us to hold on to for a time in mind and heart. What do we want? Not what would we like, but what do we want to give us a deeper connection with life and to help us give expression to our love? Not a long list of things, but a sense of clarity that illuminates what it is we are doing and why. Not outward signs of generosity, but an internal sense of caring that guides us to give in any season, not just the reflex of always giving, but also the courage to truly answer some of those people who ask us, “What do you want?”

Dare to answer. Think of the things you want, and the things that others close to you would want.

Imagine the ways they might be given and received.

What do you want?

The next pieces are about Angels, they are amongst us you know. The first is an example of how we might become angels. Maybe this is what we really want; maybe this is what we ought to be preparing ourselves for. We can become angels to those we meet in our daily lives and we can hear the angels as they speak in our daily interactions. All we need to do is prepare ourselves. Maybe this is what we are really waiting for; maybe this is what we are truly watching out for. Maybe?

Maybe we become angles by being both watches and waiters, like those shepherds in the ancient story “that glorious song of old”. Maybe we do this by preparing ourselves both to hear those voices that carry that universal message of love and to also become those messengers in our daily interactions. Maybe all we need to do is prepare ourselves each and every day and to be ready, because we never know the next encounter might be the one that changes our lives and or the person which we encounter, just as it for Kent Nerburn in that timeless and universal story that follows.

“The Cab Ride I’ll Never Forget” by Kent Nerburn From Make Me an Instrument of Your Peace: Living in the Spirit of the Prayer of St. Francis

There was a time in my life twenty years ago when I was driving a cab for a living. It was a cowboy’s life, a gambler’s life, a life for someone who wanted no boss, constant movement and the thrill of a dice roll every time a new passenger got into the cab.

What I didn’t count on when I took the job was that it was also a ministry. Because I drove the night shift, my cab became a rolling confessional. Passengers would climb in, sit behind me in total anonymity and tell me of their lives.

We were like strangers on a train, the passengers and I, hurtling through the night, revealing intimacies we would never have dreamed of sharing during the brighter light of day. I encountered people whose lives amazed me, ennobled me, made me laugh and made me weep. And none of those lives touched me more than that of a woman I picked up late on a warm August night.

I was responding to a call from a small brick fourplex in a quiet part of town. I assumed I was being sent to pick up some partiers, or someone who had just had a fight with a lover, or someone going off to an early shift at some factory for the industrial part of town.

When I arrived at the address, the building was dark except for a single light in a ground-floor window. Under these circumstances, many drivers would just honk once or twice, wait a short minute, then drive away. Too many bad possibilities awaited a driver who went up to a darkened building at 2:30 in the morning.

But I had seen too many people trapped in a life of poverty who depended on the cab as their only means of transportation. Unless a situation had a real whiff of danger, I always went to the door to find the passenger. It might, I reasoned, be someone who needs my assistance. Would I not want a driver to do the same if my mother or father had called for a cab?

So I walked to the door and knocked.

“Just a minute,” answered a frail and elderly voice. I could hear the sound of something being dragged across the floor. After a long pause, the door opened. A small woman somewhere in her 80s stood before me. She was wearing a print dress and a pillbox hat with a veil pinned on it, like you might see in a costume shop or a Goodwill store or in a 1940s movie. By her side was a small nylon suitcase. The sound had been her dragging it across the floor.

The apartment looked as if no one had lived in it for years. All the furniture was covered with sheets. There were no clocks on the walls, no knickknacks or utensils on the counters. In the corner was a cardboard box filled with photos and glassware.

“Would you carry my bag out to the car?” she said. “I’d like a few moments alone. Then, if you could come back and help me? I’m not very strong.”

I took the suitcase to the cab, then returned to assist the woman. She took my arm, and we walked slowly toward the curb. She kept thanking me for my kindness.

“It’s nothing,” I told her. “I just try to treat my passengers the way I would want my mother treated.”

“Oh, you’re such a good boy,” she said. Her praise and appreciation were almost embarrassing.
When we got in the cab, she gave me an address, then asked, “Could you drive through downtown?”

“It’s not the shortest way,” I answered.

“Oh, I don’t mind,” she said. “I’m in no hurry. I’m on my way to a hospice.”

I looked in the rearview mirror. Her eyes were glistening. “I don’t have any family left,” she continued. “The doctor says I should go there. He says I don’t have very long.”

I quietly reached over and shut off the meter. “What route would you like me to go?” I asked.

For the next two hours we drove through the city. She showed me the building where she had once worked as an elevator operator. We drove through the neighborhood where she and her husband had lived when they had first been married. She had me pull up in front of a furniture warehouse that had once been a ballroom where she had gone dancing as a girl. Sometimes she would have me slow in front of a particular building or corner and would sit staring into the darkness, saying nothing.

As the first hint of sun was creasing the horizon, she suddenly said, “I’m tired. Let’s go now.”

We drove in silence to the address she had given me. It was a low building, like a small convalescent home, with a driveway that passed under a portico. Two orderlies came out to the cab as soon as we pulled up. Without waiting for me, they opened the door and began assisting the woman. They were solicitous and intent, watching her every move. They must have been expecting her; perhaps she had phoned them right before we left.

I opened the trunk and took the small suitcase up to the door. The woman was already seated in a wheelchair.

“How much do I owe you?” she asked, reaching into her purse.

“Nothing,” I said.

“You have to make a living,” she answered.

“There are other passengers,” I responded.

Almost without thinking, I bent and gave her a hug. She held on to me tightly. “You gave an old woman a little moment of joy,” she said. “Thank you.”

There was nothing more to say. I squeezed her hand once, then walked out into the dim morning light. Behind me, I could hear the door shut. It was the sound of the closing of a life.

I did not pick up any more passengers that shift. I drove aimlessly, lost in thought. For the remainder of that day, I could hardly talk. What if that woman had gotten an angry driver, or one who was impatient to end his shift? What if I had refused to take the run, or had honked once, then driven away? What if I had been in a foul mood and had refused to engage the woman in conversation? How many other moments like that had I missed or failed to grasp?

We are so conditioned to think that our lives revolve around great moments. But great moments often catch us unawares. When that woman hugged me and said that I had brought her a moment of joy, it was possible to believe that I had been placed on earth for the sole purpose of providing her with that last ride.

I do not think that I have ever done anything in my life that was any more important.

...So who was the angel in this story? I suspect they both were...they both encounted an angel, one of God's messengers...

I love the following reflection by Billy Collins on questions we might want to ask about angels...Do we ever ask them?

“Angels” by Billy Collins

Of all the questions you might want to ask
about angels, the only one you ever hear
is how many can dance on the head of a pin.

No curiosity about how they pass the eternal time
besides circling the Throne chanting in Latin
or delivering a crust of bread to a hermit on earth
or guiding a boy and girl across a rickety wooden bridge.

Do they fly through God’s body and come out singing?
Do they swing like children from the hinges
of the spirit world saying their names backwards and forwards?
Do they sit alone in little gardens changing colors?

What about their sleeping habits, the fabric of their robes,
their diet of unfiltered divine light?
What goes on inside their luminous heads? Is there a wall
these tall presences can look over and see hell?

If an angel fell off a cloud, would he leave a hole
in a river and would the hole float along endlessly
filled with the silent letters of every angelic word?

If an angel delivered the mail, would he arrive
in a blinding rush of wings or would he just assume
the appearance of the regular mailman and
whistle up the driveway reading the postcards?

No, the medieval theologians control the court.
The only question you ever hear is about
the little dance floor on the head of a pin
where halos are meant to converge and drift invisibly.

It is designed to make us think in millions,
billions, to make us run out of numbers and collapse
into infinity, but perhaps the answer is simply one:
one female angel dancing alone in her stocking feet,
a small jazz combo working in the background.
She sways like a branch in the wind, her beautiful
eyes closed, and the tall thin bassist leans over
to glance at his watch because she has been dancing
forever, and now it is very late, even for musicians.

The next piece explores the giving of gifts rather than merely presents. It speaks powerfully to me, right in the soul of me. Christmas is about the hope and potential of what human life can be. We can bring that love alive in our lives, but it aint easy. It takes real courage to rise above the cynicism of our age and time. Hope takes real courage. Maybe this is the true gift of Christmas, I have come to believe this to be so.

We can bring the gift of Christmas alive and it comes by giving our whole hearts, whole heartedly. In so doing we can once again truly know and experience joy, but not in childish way, in a childlike and yet mature way.

You see the true gift of Christmas is to truly experience joy, something that can easily be lost in life. Joy you see is at the heart of all of this. Joy is the real gift of Christmas and it is the joy that so many people have given me in my life that I need to bring into being and thus allow the gift of Christmas to incarnate in the present moment.

Whatever I have been given materially in my life has never lasted and has certainly never enabled me to connect to all that is, all that has ever been and all that has ever been. That said the joy and love I have been gifted throughout my days, when I take time to really feel it, has truly allowed me to not only celebrate but experience every precious moment.

This is the gift, to bring joy to our world, because by gum it needs it…I think David Blanchard describes this beautifully in the following piece...

“The Gift” by David Blanchard

Sometimes I think I can teach my children things that will make life better for them as they grow up. I want to believe I can protect them, or that there is some way for me to do their learning for them. This line of thinking is routinely floored, not because I am not always the best teacher. Despite my efforts to avoid repeating mistakes, I’m still learning things I thought I knew. Just last year I mistook a gift for a present.

This gift was a homemade potholder woven of colourful scraps of cloth. It wasn’t perfect. It wasn’t beautiful. It wasn’t particularly unusual. Accepting it as a present, I placed it into service besides the stove.

Four days before Christmas I was called to officiate at a memorial service for a friend. Talking with her five–and nine–year–old daughters, I asked what things they liked to remember about their mom. What things they did together? What had she taught them? They were busy, deep at work on a gift-making project, but they expressed some memories that mattered, and recounted some gifts their mother had shared with them; making cookies…snuggling in bed…being their Brownie leader…planting bulbs. Then the nine year old looked down and said, “And she taught us how to make these potholders!”

Of course! A gift! How could I miss it?

Presents are the sort of things that fit on lists, complete with size and color preference. Presents are the sort of things we are smart enough to ask for. Gifts are altogether different. We don’t usually think to ask for them, perhaps because we think we don’t deserve them, or don’t want to risk expressing the need. Maybe we don’t even recognize the need ourselves. Gifts differ from presents because no matter what form they take, they always represent something greater, something deeper, something more enduring; they are about things like love. Respect and affirmation.

Gifts given are often woven into some simple token. And sometimes protecting our won comfort, we give them in disguise. They can be easy to miss.

Now I try to give more gifts than presents, and without too much camouflage. Be gift bearers yourselves. Give them along with presents, and look carefully for the gifts others are trying to give you.

...Finally here are a couple of pieces that I suspect are at the heart of this day...If we can do it for a season, maybe we can for eternity...

“To Live a Life – Not Merely a Season” by John Haynes Holmes

The wonderful thing about Christmas is that it fulfils all our dreams. It suspends our indifference and selfishness and fears and hates, and makes us for an instant spiritually kin. No one must be hungry or homeless on this day, no child forlorn, no heart forsaken, no race despised, no nation outlawed.

Christmas is the demonstration that no hope is vain, that the highest vision may be made real. It is as tho a spell were cast upon us, to save us...from our cruelties and lusts and make us ministers of love. The spell is fleeting – it passes quickly! But this means not at all that it is an illusion but that, real for this one day, it may be caught by the spiritual conjuration of our hearts and made real forever.

This our task – to seize and hold and perpetuate the Christmastide! To live a life, and not merely a single day or a season, which is delivered by prejudice and pride, hostility and hate, and committed to understanding and compassion, and good will! Then there will be no more Christian and pagan, Jew and gentile, black and white, native and alien, or any division – but only the human family, one as God is one, and heirs of that promise.
“If only for the season” by Edward Searl

If only for the Season…
Let us banish cynicism
and welcome wonder.

If only for the Season…
Let us downplay our differences
and discover the bonds
of common origins and continuing cause.

If only for the Season…
Let us set aside worry
and smile and laugh and sing.

If only for the Season…
Let us deny apathy and indifference
and truly live by loving.

If only for the Season…
Let us subvert covetousness and jealousy
and be both good gift getters and givers.

If only for the Season…
The brief season
of light,

Let us be wise enough to be
a little foolish
about candlelight and children and
matters of the heart…

If only for the season

...I wish you a very Happy Christmas, let's try and keep it's spirit alive throughout the whole year...

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