I was sitting in my favorite sushi restaurant today, listening to “Silent Night” and “Frosty the Snowman”. Yes… over sushi. And yes, it is ten days before Thanksgiving.
What’s going on?
Someone figured out that you don’t really make serious money on Thanksgiving. No “guilt-gifts”. No hysterical buying frenzies. No breathless reporters at the local malls, reporting on how the shelves are being stripped of the latest fad toys.
Someone figured out: if you’re not making serious money on a holiday, why bother celebrating it? Let’s start celebrating Christmas (or “Xmas”) in early September. More shopping days!
We’ve forgotten that it’s not about money or advertising or making a profit. Celebrating a holiday (a “HolyDay”) is about reawakening or reaffirming the Sacred, in the world and in us. In a world where “religion” becomes ever more irrelevant, awakening the Spirit becomes harder.
As most of you know, I grew up poor. The greed and acquisition part of the holiday gets minimized when your gift is a pair of socks or the pack of underwear you need. Not the kind of thing you brag about to the kids at school.
For me, the true Christmas holiday was going to St. John’s Episcopal Church for Christmas Eve mass. And, it wasn’t about some theological event happening. It was about the sight of the beautiful stained glass windows, lit up from the inside. It was about the flickering candlelight, the smell and swirl of the incense, the sound of snow crunching in the walk to and from the church, the sound of the bells (big and small)…
This was a very “spiritual” experience for me. And, as I recall it, it was also a very “sensate” experience, in that all of my senses were engaged in the event. And perhaps the most important part of the experience: these sense/spiritual experiences were SHARED with a few hundred others. The “sense” of community.
Along with community came another experience: the “sense” of the Transcendent. As we went through the steps of the ritual/celebration, I/we became linked with our ancestors, the thousands of people who had celebrated in that church, in that way, on that day, scores and scores of years earlier. And, linked to all people, of all faiths, whose spirits have moved them to celebrate.
Of course, celebration and transcendence is not restricted to Christianity. I can remember my first Vesak Full Moon Poya Day in Sri Lanka, with Sarvodaya’s hostel caretaker taking a handful of visiting Westerners up the hill to the temple, and showing us how to light the butter lamps. As we lit the candles, a swarm of fireflies flitted through the temple’s open courtyard. And, as I stared at the receding fireflies, they blended into the star-filled sky.
Now THAT was a peak experience!
On the way back down the hill, the caretaker asked me about my religion. I explained to her that I saw and valued the Divine parts of all religions, and that I tried to honor and practice all paths to the Divine.
After I stopped, we walked on for a minute in silence. Then she said, “Dat good. All same ting.” She helped me to see that, regardless of the theologians that argue endlessly about how many angels dance on the head of a pin, the ESSENCE of all wisdom traditions is ONE.
Okay, just in case you are thinking I’m getting dewy-eyed and sentimental over Holidays Past, I’d like to remind you of a few things:
- Suicide, around the world, is at epidemic levels.
- Depression and despair has reached astronomical proportions.
- Drug abuse (legal and illegal) continues to go UP.
- Separation and animosity are tearing at the fabric of civil societies – around the world.
I don’t make these facts up. While it may be convenient to forget them, deny what’s happening, and just celebrate the rich getting richer, I think we are meant for MORE and BETTER than that. (And, I want to remind you: these rates would not have gone down, had Hillary Clinton won the election. For all of Hillary’s many qualities, she represented the status quo. Trump didn’t cause the suicide rate. Getting rid of Trump won’t end it.)
These bad stats exist because of “Spiritual Starvation” – not knowing how to feed our Hunger for the Sacred. The way we will be fed is to search for and practice “The Common Faith”, what the late Vaclav Havel called “a purposeful search for common principles… the common spiritual and moral minimum”. (From “Creating a World That Works for All”, page x)
Another way of stating this “Common Faith” can be found in the writings of the Dalai Lama. In my eyes, the Dalai Lama wears two hats. While he is the leading figure in the religion of Tibetan Buddhism, he is ALSO a proponent and advocate for a spiritual awakening that transcends religion. (And, according to his own definition, “just a simple monk”.)
The Dalai Lama said:
“Spirituality I take to be concerned with those qualities of the human spirit — such as love and compassion, patience, tolerance, forgiveness, contentment, a sense of responsibility, a sense of harmony — which bring happiness to both self and others.
“Thus spiritual practice… involves, on the one hand, acting out of concern for others’ well-being. On the other, it entails transforming ourselves so that we become more readily disposed to do so. To speak of spiritual practice in any terms other than these is meaningless.
“My call for a spiritual revolution is thus not a call for a religious revolution. Nor is it a reference to a way of life that is somehow otherworldly…. Rather, it is a call for a radical reorientation away from our habitual preoccupation with self.” (emphasis added) (from “Seven Seeds for a New Society”, pg. xxiv)
This is a clear example of the kind of consciousness shift that will cure our societal maladies and lead us to “A World for All”. This spiritual awakening is the antidote to soul-emptying gross materialism.
An example of how empty the season can be: if you want to see what the “fad gift” of the holiday season is, just look in Goodwill stores in mid-January. I remember the season that the “bread maker machines” were heavily advertised – there were so many of them in Goodwill stores by mid-January that they didn’t have shelf space for them!
After all is said and done, if you WANT to give someone a gift this holiday season, why not MAKE the gift instead of BUY it? I believe that a way of “taking back” the sacredness of the holidays is to expand “Buy Nothing Day” to “Buy Nothing SEASON”.