Merry Christmas! So much to do and here I am again, sitting on my sofa, sipping coffee and watching the sky grow light. Already it seems brighter to me. This is my very flawed and subjective view, of course. Yet it does seem brighter. This body and heart came to me from the most ancient times, and it knows that a great shift has taken place: the sun is returning.
In a little while, my day will kick into high gear: my daughter will be baking and I will be cooking and then we are going with friends to see the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center. We will be making our own updated version of Christmas. And I am vowing to be especially mindful today, since yesterday’s last-minute shopping trip with the family triggered a brief but painful storm of raging ultra-sensitivity my daughter labels “crack baby.” This is a kind of code that evolved from an observation made by a friend of mine who is a pediatrician. As a young intern in a big New York City hospital, Amy noted that some babies seemed to invite holding and attention while others were so overwrought—and so in need of holding and care and attention– they pushed it away. My friend observed something that most of us have noted in different ways: love and peace and a spirit of generosity radiates and attracts more of the same. Sadly, so does crabbiness and acting out or shutting down to protect our pain.
And yet, as Scrooge shows us, it is never too late to change. As someone commented in reply to my last post, Scrooge had help seeing the impact of his deeds and his own death thanks to three apparitions and old Marley’s ghost. He had really terrifying and convincing supernatural help: “At this point the spirit raised a frightful cry, and shook his chain with such a dismal and appalling noise, that Scrooge held on tight to his chair, to save himself from falling in a swoon….”
Most of us don’t have such help. Yet we still can catch ourselves at moments. There is usually no clanking of chains and frightful sights, but we can feel ourselves contracting, slipping into the myriad inner and outer attitudes we have picked up over the years to protect ourselves…our own rusty old chains. At moments—and I mean nanoseconds sometimes– we can stop before a reaction really takes over and allow the heart and mind to release and open. In such a moment, we can rediscover in our own hearts and minds the spirit of this ancient holy time, which even before Christian times it was consecrated by giving gifts. We can give the ultimate gift of our attention, acceptance, and love. In any given moment, it is possible to embrace with our attention everything that is happening–the person or people before us, including ourselves, even when we are acting like crack babies.
We may not have the three Christmas ghosts, but we do have what the Buddhist wise men from the East call the three poisons of greed, aversion, and delusion. Serously. What if we received these spirits the way Scrooge received his three Christmas apparitions? What if instead of trying to push these visitors away without various reactions, we treated them like messengers, really allowing ourselves to see what they have to reveal? From long experience being befogged and whipsawed by these three visitors, I know that what hurts us can also be a deep of compassion and wisdom. We worldly beings are a position to understand one another. And, one moment at a time, we can change. Here is Scrooge on Christmas morning, encountering a man he had coldly rejected the day before for seeking money for the poor:
He [Scrooge] had not gone far, when, coming on toward him he beheld the portly gentleman who had walked into his counting house the day before, and said, ‘Scrooge and Marley’s, I believe?’ It sent a pang across his heart to think how the old gentleman would look upon him when they met, but he knew what path lay straight before him, and he took it.
“My dear sir,” said Scrooge, quickening his pace, and taking the old gentleman by both his hands, ‘how do you do? I hope you succeeded yesterday. It was kind of you. A merry Christmas to you sir!”
“Yes,’ said Scrooge. “That is my name, and I fear it may not be pleasant to you. Allow me to ask your pardon. And will you have the goodness—‘Here Scrooge whispered in his ear.”
“Lord bless me!’ cried the gentleman, as if his breath were taken away. “My dear Mr. Scrooge, are you serious?”
“If you please,” said Scrooge. “Not a farthing less. A great may back payments are included in it, I assure you. Will you do me that favor?”
“My dear sir,’ said the other, shaking hands with him. “I don’t know what to say to such munifi—“
“Don’t say anything, please,” retorted Scrooge. “Come and see me. Will you come and see me? ”
“I will!” cried the old gentleman.
In 1843, Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol. He recreated the spirit of Christmas, showing us what goodwill, compassion, and generosity looked like in the images and dress of the day. The very phrase “Merry Christmas” came from the book (and we all know what being a “scrooge” means).
May we all rediscover the spirit of Christmas and keep it in our own way. God bless us, everyone.