Sunday, 4 December 2016

The Greatest Gift of All

We are now fully into the Advent Season, the days that lead to Christmas Day. These are the days of waiting of preparation. The music is playing, we can hear all the familiar songs in every shop as we no doubt begin the process of selecting presents for our loved ones. 

Have you done all your shopping yet? I’ve not even begun. I will soon, but not just yet. I’ve got too much to do.
This is the season for giving and forgetting, but not just one of wanton consumerism is not just about giving and getting things. It is a time set aside to forgive and forget, to heal old wounds, surely this is the spirit of the season ahead. Sadly though the spirit of the season is so often lost.

A classic example of missing out on the spirit and just getting lost in the pure materialism of the season is the “Black Friday” phenomenon that has come to our culture in recent years. It is another example of we British partially importing and acquiring culture from our friends in America. Sadly though we have only taken on board the material aspects. Yes we have “Black Friday” or more accurately “Black Fortnight” but without the spiritual element that accompanies it. “Thanksgiving”, a festival of coming together in love and an offering of thanks for the gifts that life has offered to us, we have not acquired…Oh we do live in such a reductionist age, we have squeezed the spirit out of everything. In so doing we run the risk of reducing our lives to nothingness, to meaninglessness. This is a dangerous game. In reducing everything to a purely material level we reduce everything eventually to nothing, until life itself becomes nothing but a meaningless soulless activity.

We need to find the spirit and soul of everything, to sanctify life once again…We need to rediscover the spirit of the seasons, to once again find the religion in the ribbons and the wrapping paper.

Strangely enough we can begin to discover the spirit of the season in those very gifts as we select them for our loved ones and wrap them up with our care and attention. These are acts of connection and thanks giving in and of themselves. This is the spirit coming alive, oh yes there is true religion in the ribbons and wrapping paper and the time we take to select and prepare the gifts…Through such simple acts we can begin once again to sanctify life…

 In “Spiritual Literacy: Reading the Sacred in Everyday Life” Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat offer examples of spiritually literate gifts that offer a way to combine spiritual practice and gift giving.

 They write:

 “Spiritually literate gifts have meanings attached to them. They might be symbolic of God's presence in daily life; they might reflect how we are connected through time and across the miles with others; or they might encourage us in a spiritual practice such as play, wonder, and hope. Here are some examples of spiritually literate gifts to give this holiday season, based on the Alphabet of Spiritual Literacy.

 • Something handmade which expresses your creativity. (Creativity is a gift of God, and a handmade gift reflects our role as co-creators of the universe.)

• A toy, game, joke book, or something whimsical that makes you laugh. (According to the some of the mystics, God created the world in play and loves laughter. There is an Apache myth of the Creator giving human beings the ability to talk, to run, and to look. But God was not satisfied until God also gave them the ability to laugh. Only then did the Creator say, "Now you are fit to live.")

 • Something you have used and appreciated, such as a book you have read or a piece of clothing. (Everything has value, even old and used things, and recycled gifts often have added value because stories go along with them.)

 • A journal into which you have copied meaningful poems and passages from books you like, or a CD of your favorite songs. (By making your own holy books and hymnals, you are sharing your spiritual understanding of the world. You are also introducing others to your teachers.)

• A DVD that has touched you. (This is another way to share meanings and teachers with others. It also encourages hospitality, imagination, enthusiasm, gratitude, joy, and play.)

• A food basket, arranged to accent the variety of colors and shapes of food. Or an aromatherapy candle. (Beautiful sights, touches, and smells evoke wonder and reverence for life's bounties.)

• Copies of recipes, perhaps family favorites or dishes served on a special occasion. (In addition to sparking memories of shared experiences, recipes reflect our connections with others over time and space.)

• A donation in someone's name to a charity or nonprofit organization. (Money given to an environmental organization or an animal shelter testifies to our reverence for the Creation; money to groups working for conflict resolution advances the cause of peace; money to a community food bank or an organization working with refugees demonstrates our feelings of connection to others.)

• The gift of silence, such as money and time off for a visit to a spiritual retreat house or just to stay home with the phones off. (Silence is an essential spiritual practice, valuable according to all the wisdom traditions for communing with God and nurturing, healing, and renewing the soul.)

Such gifts help to bring connection and oneness and help to bring alive the spirit. Such simple, meaningful gifts can begin to create the religion that can at times become loss in the ribbons and the wrapping paper. We can bring the spirit of the season alive in our ordinary lives; we can bring light to our lives and our relationships; we can shine some light on the “Black Fridays” or “Black Any Days” that seem to have over taken this season.

There is also something else that we can give in the season of rushing, pushing and at times resenting. That gift is simply our time and our love. We can sanctify this season by giving one another perhaps the greatest present of them all, our true presence. We just need to spend time listening and paying attention to one another. Perhaps the greatest gift we can give to one another is the gift of our time. The most priceless commodity of them all.

A lovely friend of mine, who lives in a land far away, sent me the gift of a “meme”, in a message of Facebook the other day, that expresses the priceless commodity of time. It is by Thich Naht Hanh, who said:

“Every morning, when we wake up, we have twenty four brand new hours to live. What a precious gift! We have the capacity to live in a way that these twenty four hours will bring Peace, Joy and Happiness to ourselves and others.”

What a precious gift we have been given. The gift of life, the gift of our presence. Let’s not waste it. Let’s sanctify life with our presence with our life. Let’s become the gift we have all been waiting for.

You see we’ve already received the greatest gifts we could ever have been given, the gift of life itself. It is up to us what we do with this gift. Let’s not waste them; let’s make the most of them; let’s make the most of our lives. In so doing we will encourage others to do the same and we will sanctify life with our presence. What a present we then become to life itself. Remember that life is indeed the greatest gift of them all. Life is the ultimate Grace. We did absolutely nothing to deserve it. It was freely given to us without any effort on our part.

This year has been quite a year for myself. I have received many gifts and quite a bit of recognition. At the recent Slimming World Awards night I officially received my award for “Man of the Year”. It was a wonderful night in which I shared with other prize winners. Along with the prize money I also received the gorgeous gift of cuff links and a beautiful glass trophy. It’s the first trophy I’ve ever received. These of course were not the real gifts, nor was the publicity. No the real gift is in the new life I’ve been given. Yes this began with the weight loss and led to this greater experience of the life I’ve been freely given. A life I can now make better use of in the service of others. This truly is a gift that keeps on giving as I share it with others. I offer true thanks giving for this and live with real gratitude as I make use of the gift, and I do so with no “Black Friday” in sight.

Life offers so many gifts to us, if we would just recognise them. Sadly we don’t always do so and we don’t always make the best use of this ultimate Grace. I know I’ve wasted many of the precious gifts that I have been offered. No doubt I will do so again, I am as human as I have always been. I will not beat myself up for this. I will just pledge to do my best to make use of what I have been given and to share it with those I get to share this ultimate free gift with, the gift of life itself.

I will do my utmost to give this love away beginning this Advent and moving on into Christmas and beyond. This to me is Love coming alive, Love incarnating in human form. This is what we are here for. To use the gifts we have been given, not only for ourselves but for the good of all and to share with all, therefore encouraging others to do the same. It begins by simply sharing the most precious gift of all, my time, my presence, isn’t this the ultimate present. Oh how I wish I had more of this priceless commodity to give. Oh how I wish there was more of this precious commodity for giving and for getting. Maybe there is, but more about that in the next "blogspot",

This is my suggestion for focus this Advent season, this giving of our true presence, the ultimate present. It begins right here right now in this season of selecting and wrapping presents. We can begin to bring the sacred alive in what appears to be wanton materialism. We can sanctify life with our presence in the selecting and wrapping of presents, we can begin to bring the spirit of the season alive in these most simple acts, we can unwrap the religion in the ribbons. We can also bless one another with our presence by simply spending time with one another mindfully and lovingly, in simply sharing our time and listening to one another.

 It really is that simple. We can bring the spirit of the season alive once again. We can bring Christmas alive in the presence of each and every day. We can become the greatest gift that anyone could wish for.

We no longer have to wish it could be Christmas every day, we can make it so, by simply blessing each day with our presence.

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