“Christmas is built upon a beautiful and intentional paradox; that the birth of the homeless should be celebrated in every home.”
I was talking with a friend today about our feelings toward Christmas.
She observed that most people she knows claim either to love it or to hate it. Some take special joy and comfort in the trappings of the season. Others carry them as a weight, fraught with negative associations, something more to be endured than enjoyed. (A few try to ignore the holiday altogether.)
My friend found it refreshing that i don’t have strong feelings about the season in either of those two common directions. What i do take from it, i take quietly.
When my children were little i delighted in making the season delightful for them – more because of people than things, though. There was no worry about them discovering the ‘truth’ about Santa, because in our family he was always a winked-at fiction — like being ‘in’ on an inside joke.
I have often observed over the years that moments of great sorrow or great joy rarely are composed of purely one or the other. My darkest moments come accompanied with hints of light, as when tears of grief remind me i cry only because i *had* someone or something of value to lose. And on occasions of highest elation, i’m faintly reminded of how fleeting such moments tend to be.
This came to mind again when i came across this meme — which also connects well with the Morning Dark poem i posted a week ago.
May you experience harmony this holiday season.
Religious fervor has been in the news in a big way this week. Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum of the god question, you could hardly avoid the news of the pope’s visit to the U.S., its significance and massive response much covered and commented on.
I did not follow the events of his visit closely, but i did hear that in reference to victims of child abuse, he asserted, “God weeps.”
That statement started me weeping.
I have some personal familiarity with the issue. I was a very strong believer at the time (i was not the victim directly), and the events i’m referring to did not drive me away from belief. Rather, i was comforted and inspired by the idea of a god who suffers with us.
Believing in a god who could have intervened, but who chose not to prevent the infliction of this particular harm, necessitated also believing that at the very least, the atrocity somehow hurt him too. I granted that the Why question belonged to the shadowlands where mysteries remain beyond us for now.
Along the way in the many years since, i have become less able to find the notion of god’s weeping either comforting or persuasive. It has, of course, never been merely an academic exercise. I suspect it never is for anyone who has known the indefinite suffering of deep violation.
As i have written about elsewhere, my very gradual development toward non-belief has not been driven primarily by personally painful experiences, though they inescapably play a crucial role in the narrative. As regards the pope’s statement, though, I am much more ready to accept my own troubles than those dealt to a child from a predator’s hands.
While in these contemplations today, i happened on an article that touched tangentially on questions of god and suffering. In it, writer Darin Strauss, who considers himself a skeptic, queries believer Erik Kolbell, Minister of Social Justice at Riverside Church in New York City. Here is part of Kolbell’s response with regard to suffering:
“I do believe that we can effect both good and ill on earth, and, as pertains to the question of inexplicable and arbitrary suffering, while we cannot explain it (to do so is to demean it), we can redeem it.”
There is profound resonance for me in his point about demeaning another’s suffering by attempting to explain it. It cannot be explained. But what we can do is remain mindful of our own capabilities for good or ill, in big and small ways — after all, there are no small ways.
I see ‘redeeming’ as being ready to seize every opportunity to prevent suffering, to otherwise mitigate it by offering comfort, and finally to realize our deep human connection to each other in the face of it.
Now that i can be inspired by.
A motivating quote for my fellow writers…
Sometimes allegory can express what prose cannot. Here is a new piece, a very short one. I hope it touches you.
The day having strewn her winding path with varied turns and twists, Poetta found herself near sunset out on a lush, happy, grassy field — at peace yet not in stillness.
Her deep contentment was born not of quietness, but of melodies and motion and voices.
Among a throng of musicians and revelers, her thoughts were lively as well. Hearing someone speak of happiness, she cried out, “That voice! I recognize that voice…”
And she realized it was her own.
Poetta had lived many, many years, yet she was still a girl. A girl with a voice. A girl who thought often about sunsets.
Upon arriving at this grassy field she met a dear friend who thrilled to see that in spite of the stumbles on the shadowy road just behind her, she was still able to dance.
She told him, “There are many ways our stories get told. I dance with a limp – that is one of mine.”
Seeing his concern over the streaming tears accompanying her joyous smile, she addressed the question he had not verbally posed.
To his quizzical countenance she replied, “When music makes me this happy, it hurts.”
And though she knew this made perfect sense to him, she continued:
“That’s what music does. It shows me my most all-encompassing joy and my profoundest sorrow at the same time. It puts them right there in front of my face — at the front of my heart! — where i cannot *not* feel them, and i cannot be still. And it makes them indistuinguishable from each other.”
Her friend replied wordlessly with a strong, warm embrace, while the music carried on around them.
Some time ago, while i was forming a friendship with someone who had a very different belief system from mine, i tried to think of a way to describe an impasse we seemed to be reaching. The result is the following allegorical story. The story isn’t meant to suggest there are *only* two ways, but these two seem to be common.
BOOKLETTE AND IMPRESSA
Two cloud-gazers lie on their backs in a meadow, enjoying the puffy, delightful formations above.
One has a small book with her. It contains writings suggesting how cloud formations are to be interpreted, a record that informs her gazing and inspires her complete confidence. Let’s call her Booklette.
The other relies on no such book, but rather on her own impressions of the ethereal shapes. Only her present encounter with the billowy masses enlivens her thoughts. Let’s call her Impressa.
Lovely wisps of temporary forms suggestive of animals, trees and myriad other things float by.
The two pass the time calling out the forms they see, and they find delight on the rare occasions when they see and name the same form.
Their friendship is tested by what happens when they perceive differing shapes. Wishing for more of the enjoyment of agreeing, each tries to induce the other to see in the clouds what she sees.