Sunday, 11 December 2016
The Strange Arithmetic of Christmas
"The Strange Arithmetic of Christmas” by Jeremiah Jenkins
I deliberately requested your minister to allow me to write to you about Christmas. I was a teacher of arithmetic for fifteen years in a preparatory school, so I want to write about the inverted arithmetic of Christmas.
Christmas differs from figures and sums and dollars and crowds-at-a football game. You can add these together and get more. But with Christmas, you can add all the Santa Clauses on earth and there is still only one Santa Claus. Or all the trees and there is still only one Tree. Or perhaps all the births of children but there is still only one Bethlehem story. Or all the families, and there is still one family – yours!
It is when you start dividing Christmas that it begins to grow. It multiplies with division. It defies the rules. If you have six TV sets and give two or three away, you have less. But when it comes to the richness of love, the currency of gratitude or the document of faith, the more you give the more you possess. To teach is to learn. To encourage someone and give them your faith is to strengthen your own faith. To love is to know love.
Christmas is like a lot of things; it can be misused. I think it was never meant for raucous public displays. Its carols were not intended to be blared into the streets. Its colors probably were not meant to be emblazoned like advertising – or even associated with advertising. Christmas is the artistry of the world; it is the subtle touch, the gentle word, the endearing act, the loving gift. Share these qualities, divide them, and you will find miraculously that they have grown with division. This is the strange arithmetic of Christmas.
"The Strange Arithmetic of Christmas" I've been thinking about this for quite some time now, it has been growing, nay multiplying in my heart an soul...
I recently came across the following quotation from that great medieval heretical mystic Meister Eckhart:
“God is not found in the soul by adding anything, but by a process of subtraction.”
It instantly brought to my mind “The Strange Arithmetic of Christmas.” Particularly the following sentences:
"It is when you start dividing Christmas that it begins to grow. It multiplies with division. It defies the rules. If you have six TV sets and give two or three away, you have less. But when it comes to the richness of love, the currency of gratitude or the document of faith, the more you give the more you possess. To teach is to learn. To encourage someone and give them your faith is to strengthen your own faith. To love is to know love…”
“…Christmas is the artistry of the world; it is the subtle touch, the gentle word, the endearing act, the loving gift. Share these qualities, divide them, and you will find miraculously that they have grown with division. This is the strange arithmetic of Christmas.”
Gosh I love this…What beautiful un-common sense!!! Makes sense to me…
Now before I continue an apology. I’m talking here about a subject I cannot claim to be an expert in, mathematics. I say this although I was a champion at mental arithmetic at primary school, my cousin told me it was because I was the most mental in my school. She may well be right. Arithmetic wasn’t a problem for me, it was mathematics I just couldn’t fathom, algebra and trigonometry etc. just made no sense at all to my brain.
Unfortunately many of us lack the courage, the heart, to empty our cups…
Through living spiritually I have leant that it is through the process of subtraction, rather than addition, that my soul grows and it is through division rather than multiplication that my heart is filled.
This to me is the heart of Christmas, this giving from the heart to others. This is the key message of Christianity as I see it, self-giving love. By the way I am not suggesting that it is unique to Christianity. I find it at the heart of all the faith traditions I have come to know too.
This is what Christmas means to me and why as the years have gone by I have come to believe in Christmas more and more.
I believe in Christmas, the soul of Christmas, the spirit of Christmas, the heart of Christmas the religion of Christmas more today than I ever did at any moment in my life. Today I believe everything about Christmas and a whole lot more than everything that we think we know.
Now don’t get me wrong here I am not suggesting that I believe that everything that the Gospel accounts recounted actually happened. I really can’t answer that, I wasn’t there. Were any of us who argue about it actually there? No of course not. What I mean when I say I believe in Christmas more today than I have ever done before is that I believe in the universal mythos that lies in the soul of the story. I believe in the story and what it has to teach humanity regardless of time and or space.
I also believe we need Christmas more today than at any other time before, for we mock the bells at Christmas time probably more today than we ever did before. The problem I suspect is that we do not hear the message at the heart of Christmas…Maybe we have forgotten how to listen or perhaps we have forgotten how to deliver the message.
Well here is where the contradiction comes in. We need both emptiness and fullness. We need clarity of mind and abundance of love. We need an empty mind and a full heart; we need both an empty cup and at the same time one that is full to overflowing. Now this probably doesn’t sound like sense to most, but then Christmas isn’t about common sense it is about un-common sense.
I will try to explain what I mean, beginning with the following story:
There is a story of a university professor who visited a Japanese master to inquire about Zen. The professor began to ask questions while the master just sat quietly, listening. After a while the master began to pour tea into the professor’s cup. The cup soon filled up, but the master did not stop pouring. The tea soon began to spill over on to the table. Initially the professor just sat there in stunned silence, he did not know what to do. Eventually he could take no more and shouted out “It’s overfull. No more will go in!” The master stopped pouring and simply said “Like this cup you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”
We also live such busy and full lives, that paradoxically can feel so empty. We never seem to have a minute to simply be still and to feel the season. To truly know the spirit of the season we need time for silence and stillness, we need spiritual practice. We need time for prayer and meditation, a time to empty the mind so as to hear the cries of those in need and the songs of the angels and to let the love present in all of us to fill our hearts.
We need to empty our minds so that we can once again begin to fill our hearts.
This is how we deliver the gift at the heart of Christmas. This is how we bring the spirit to life not only for a day, or even a season, but for the rest of our lives. It is quite simple really, but it aint easy. It requires courage, it requires heart, it requires us to truly live from our hearts and to go against the grain of conventional truth. It requires that most priceless of commodities un-common sense.
It requires us to still ourselves in silence so as to hear the call of Christmas, isn’t that what this time of Advent, of preparation is about. To make ready those mangers in our own hearts and then to simply fill our hearts with the love we have been yearning for, by pouring out that love on all we share our lives with.
In so doing we will bring the spirit, the heart of the season to life. Christ will truly be born again. Love will be incarnated in and through our very lives…
For when our hearts are opened Christ is born again…