Up before dawn on Christmas Eve, writing this by a lighted Christmas tree, I marvel at the expectant hush in the air. I still feel that something miraculous and unexpected is coming, and it has nothing to do with the presents under the tree. Conditioned since babyhood to expect wonders on Christmas—and presents, special baked goods, and a wonderful suspension of the usual rules and that adult state of distraction, that buzzing busyness and keeping things rolling—I still sense that something miraculous is coming. I sense that we are meant to glimpse, to touch, to receive something beyond conditioning, beyond our common capacity for delusion, for making hologram worlds in our minds.
There is something beyond us waiting to be received by us. We have been seeking it all our lives, and it is right here, right now, hovering above us, surrounding us, in the depths of us. I call it Christmas presence. Besides our own capacity for distraction—not just by the sounds or the siren call of the screens in our lives but by hope of praise and fear of blame and the spin-off worries and ways we get worked up in this world—we inherit an ability to touch and listen and see and yearn for what is beyond this self-enclosed world. Along with a body and brain that passed to us from distant ancestors who noted the darkest day of the year and then the return of the sun, came the capacity to be still, to keep watch.
We can think of presence in a very down-to-earth way. It is the way we are when we walk in the woods, alert, open to our surroundings, responsive to what might arise. “Sati,” the Pali word for mindfulness literally means to remember. In a state of open, responsive attentiveness, we are re-membered or re-collected, heart and body and mind all present—think of the shepherds keeping watch in the fields. Presence is also something very exalted, something that comes in great stillness (since I’ve brought up the shepherds, I may as well add that “Silent Night” has a coded meaning for me). Presence is a great force of love, a light of awareness that reaches down to us—reminding us know that we are remembered in a much vaster world than our brain-sized world, assuring us that as improbable it sounds, we are meant to be part of a greater whole.
Presence also has a quality of forgiveness, an open, responsive, loving acceptance that delivers us from the cruelty of our own judgments, resentments, guilt, all that is unresolved in our lives–and we humans all carry such things, and to be cut off from a sense of being part of a greater, moving whole is to be haunted by the sense that we aren’t really fully living the life we are meant to be living (not that we don’t have bright spots, cherished memories).
A wonderful thing about presence is that it can be practiced right now in the down-to-earth form—and even (especially) if you don’t feel at all wonderful. We can practice giving open, responsive attention—and heaven knows what we may receive. Think of those shepherds keeping watch in the field. Think of them being mindful, open to the unexpected that might arise, ready to respond to anything that might threaten the flock. And then came the unexpected….
21 thoughts on “Christmas Presence”
Thank you for this lovely reflection and for offering us your Christmas presence.
Thank you, Liz. Merry Christmas to you.
Merry Christmas, dear Tracy. May the luminous presence of God’s love, made incarnate so long ago, fill your heart with joy, hope, and love. Peace.
Merry Christmas to you, dear Scott. May God’s love fill your heart.
It is difficult to be present. The mind wanders like a drunk at a holiday party. But yes, to be present to what is as opposed to what is desired is the beginning of a great journey. And what makes a journey great is not knowing where it will end but being open to the unfolding as it happens.
In meditation, it is easier to control the moment through mantra or the counting of breath but to sit with what arises is a great journey. Sometimes what arises is boredom or daydreaming or neuroses but sometimes what arises is the vastness of consciousness and a profound peace. It is almost as if by sitting through the distractions but not becoming attached to the distractions that great insights or great peace can arrive.
Thank you for writing about presence so beautifully. Unlike paleolithic man with only the stories he could create and share, modern man is surrounded by images and stories and even created desires; modern man is fed a gluttonous diet of images. This, of course, makes it even harder to sit and be present because not only does his own desires and daydreams arise but the desires and daydreams of the collective culture. It is as if modern media man’s mind is the Mall of America and there are so many distractions, that presence is harder to find.
And yet, if I sit, presence comes. Sometimes it comes for a brief moment and sometimes it accompanies me for the entire sitting but it always comes.
Yes, sati is to remember for when I sit, I remember that there is always a greater peace and a greater awareness.
Sitting is the portal to presence.
Thank you, Theodosia.
p.s. when I find myself drunk at a party, I usually sit.
May your heart continue to be filled with wonder, awe,compassion and peace.
Merry Christmas, Tracy.
Merry Christmas to you, Elizabeth.
I came across the images below which were made very carefully to show what we don’t see in the night sky of cities because we are blinded by the ordinary light pollution. The artist went to deserts and empty places at the same latitude as the cities in question and then combined the two images to show what it would be like if the city turned off its lights and freed itself from its obsession with distractions. They show how an immense magical world is there all the time behind what we take to be our reality. We just need to look for it.
There are more at:
Yo ho ho and a meaningful Christmas to all.
Hi Theodosia. A rare name. I know it since my Armenian ancestry lived in the city of Theodosia within the Crimea.
The Greek origin of the name Theodosia means “God’s gift.” You’ve got a nice name
The communists of course changed the name to Feodosia to get rid of the God connotation. It is nice to know that some thoughtful women still have this name
One observation on presence:
To quote Jeanne De Salzmann:
“Man is only a promise of man until he can live with both natures present in himself and not withdraw into one or the other. If he withdraws into his highest part, he is distant from his manifestations and can no longer evaluate them; he no longer knows or experiences his animal nature. If he slides into the other nature, he forgets everything that is not animal, and there is nothing to resist it; he is animal, not man. The animal always refuses the angel. The angel turns away from the animal”. -Reality of Being Page 21.
It is easy to forget that the Christ influence is what allows for the reconciliation and connection of the higher and the lower. That IMO is good reason to celebrate Christmas
Merry Christmas, Nick. May the angel and the animal be reconciled.
Nick, sounds like Platonic duality which got taken up into Christian Gnosticism. This line of thinking was declared a heresy by the early church because it cast as evil God’s creation. Hebrew thought contains none of this duality. The incarnation himself is a validation of the goodness of our human physicality as we are created in the “imago Dei.”
Sorry, hard for me to pass that one up on this, the second
most important holiday of the Christian calendar.
I agree, Nick, and peace to all as we celebrate this wonderous time. Merry Christmas! Bruce, thanks for the links.
“Nick, sounds like Platonic duality which got taken up into Christian Gnosticism. This line of thinking was declared a heresy by the early church because it cast as evil God’s creation. Hebrew thought contains none of this duality. The incarnation himself is a validation of the goodness of our human physicality as we are created in the “imago Dei.”
Now that I’m back after a busy morning and taking a lunch break, I looked in and read your post. I’d like to clarify my position.
Since my concern is for esoteric Christianity, there will be differences from what you know of as traditional Christianity.
First of all Christianity as I understand it is not a result of Judaism. It is far older. I understand it as an expression of a perennial tradition so always was.
“To conclude, the great Christian theologian, Saint Augustine in his Retractiones, wrote “The very thing which is now called the Christian religion existed among the ancients also, nor was it wanting from the inception of the human race until the coming of Christ in the flesh, at which point the true religion, which was already in existence, began to be called Christian.”
Plato and Gnosticism are not the same. “Basically, Plato’s chariot Allegory describes the soul figuratively as a chariot, driven by a charioteer, and powered by two horses: a noble white horse and an ignoble dark one. It occurs in the context of an allegory in which the chariot attempts to rise beyond the heavens, there to behold divine visions, but often doesn’t succeed, instead falling to earth. But there is a process by which it may ascend again.”
The world is not evil. There is nothing evil about a tree or a lake. We have a fallen nature represented by the black horse.
Man has the potential to be in the image of our creator but as we are, it remains a potential. We are the wretched Man as described by Paul in Romans 7.
Colossians 3: 8-11
8 But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.
The new self is in the image. We have the potential for a development of our being to become in the image.
1 Corinthians 15
35 But someone may ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” 36 How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. 38 But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body.
“The seed of God is in us. Given an intelligent and hard-working farmer, it will thrive and grow up to God, whose seed it is; and accordingly its fruits will be God-nature. Pear seeds grow into pear trees, nut seeds into nut trees, and God-seed into God.” Meister Eckhart
Where Buddhism claims no soul and traditional Christianity claims a fully developed soul. I believe in the seed of the soul as the most sensible explanation for human purpose. The maturing seed of the soul is what reconciles the two horses healing the dark horse in the process. This seed is nourished and allowed to grow by the Christ influence and by grace if we allow it.
This may appear as heresy but for me is what feeds the mind as well as the heart in their joint need for meaning. It makes Christmas worth celebrating.
My apologies because I am responding on my little iPhone and it is hard to see your words and respond to them in an orderly fashion. I am not sure what esoteric Christianity is. Is it a Christianity that melds individual beliefs with elements of Christianity?
Second, I’d be interested in who commented on Augustine’s comment. Without knowing the context, my guess is what Augustine was saying was that Christ has always existed (traditional Nicean orthodoxy) and therefore the “seeds” of Christianity were always there in other religions (C.S. Lewis also talks about this) but were only fully revealed and the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
Per Paul’s seed that dies and is reborn, a traditional exigesis of this thought would be that he is talking about the death of this earthly body (the seed) which will yield what he calls the “spiritual body” upon each of our resurrections. Christ is our pattern. In his post-resurrection appearances, he was not recognized at first by those that knew him. He was the same yet different. His body bore the scars of his life-ending trauma, he could eat, he could be touched by Thomas but he could pass through walls. He rose again but in a new form, the fruit of the seed of his earthly body.
As far as Plato, his thought was absorbed into Neoplatonism that was prevalent in Alexandria in the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th centuries. This Neoplatonism gave rise to the Gnostic idea of the demiurge, a fallen god who created a damaged creation, a creation that was evil. This was incorporated by Christian Gnostics into what could be called an esoteric Christianity. This is the idea that certain people have access to secret knowledge, gnosis, that allows them special, esoteric insights. Central in this gnosis is the notion that the body is bad and that platonic forms or angels or a pure “soul” is a higher form. If this line of reasoning is followed, the body is something that is to be shed and the ideal or soul is something to objectified and striven for. This is not consistent with Christianity.
Paul spends much time in his letters talking about virtue and how we should live. This should be taken in two ways: first, as pastoral advice to Christians who are learning how to live in a pagan world; and second, how we as Christians are called to live in response to God’s love and grace.
You also spoke of Jesus being sent to reconcile our good natures with our animal natures. This is simply not true. Jesus was sent as God reaching out to us so that we could be reconciled to him as we are, fallen and broken creatures. Christ death washes us of our sins and clothes us in our “new selves” so that in the end, we can stand in the throne room, singing “Worthy is the Lamb, worthy is the lamb, worthy is the lamb!”
it’s about him, it’s not about us!
At least that’s my understanding of the meaning of reality.
I guess what I am hearing that what gives life purpose is that we have a soul seed which, through our own achievement and God’s grace, we can strive to perfect. Said another way, there is a perfection we can strive for. This certainly holds clear echoes of Platonic forms, Neoplatonic souls and a bifurcated human being or a Gnostic view of reality.
The risk in this line of reasoning is many but perhaps chief among them is that we have the capacity to perfect ourselves. Yes? That by being virtuous, per Paul, we can attain perfection. That we can climb out of the Cave and see the light, the source of all knowledge and good.
This line of reasoning, given man’s brokeness, can only
lead to hubris. This is why we are redeemed through, and only through, Jesus Christ. Paul’s, even though he preaches on virtue, hammers on the idea in Romans that we are justified only by faith, not by works. It is only in this humility that we can live. If it’s works, that is striving for the perfection of the soul, that matters – then we are in trouble. You become holier than me because you have performed more good works, your soul is more advanced than mine. Hubris rules and it all comes down like a house of cards.
Christ does the reconciling, he does the work. It is our task to live in gratitude and humility and to point others to his saving grace – not my own ability to perfect myself.
Nick, be very careful in using scripture to support your
own logic. Scripture has a coherence and unity that makes it holy. There is great danger in using snippets of it to support your own opinions.
In His Loving Grace,
It isn’t a matter of a subjective interpretation of good and bad natures but rather objective higher and lower levels of reality and the way in which the lower has been rendered out of balance and corrupted over time.
Rather than write a long post, I’ll post a link to esoteric Christianity. If you read this you’ll understand my belief.
It cannot be popular in these times with either traditionalists or New Age types who hold this idea of sameness.
” Jesus indicated that his message consisted of a public (exoteric) message for all the people and an advanced (esoteric) teaching reserved for initiates.”
I have nothing against the exoteric message since often it is all that is needed or wanted. My heart goes out to the young Simone types who feel the depth of Christianity yet who find only exoteric interpretations and wonderful thoughts. It must be hell for the young in this position. A person needing as Simone did will feel the depth of Christianity rather than being satisfied with defending various exoteric interpretations through conditioning furthered by a feeling of belonging to a group.
“To believe in God is not a decision we can make. All we can do is decide not to give our love to false gods. In the first place, we can decide not to believe that the future contains for us an all-sufficient good. The future is made of the same stuff as the present….
“…It is not for man to seek, or even to believe in God. He has only to refuse to believe in everything that is not God. This refusal does not presuppose belief. It is enough to recognize, what is obvious to any mind, that all the goods of this world, past, present, or future, real or imaginary, are finite and limited and radically incapable of satisfying the desire which burns perpetually with in us for an infinite and perfect good… It is not a matter of self-questioning or searching. A man has only to persist in his refusal, and one day or another God will come to him.”
— Weil, Simone, ON SCIENCE, NECESSITY, AND THE LOVE OF GOD, edited by Richard Rees, London, Oxford University Press, 1968.- ©
I will check out your link. Thank you. I just am profoundly worried that your striving misses the mark – to seek and love Jesus.
Thanks for your concern Scott but i’ll be OK. I’m not going off the deep end. We can receive from above if we open to what it offers
“… Love towards a thing eternal and infinite feeds the mind wholly with joy, and is itself unmingled with any sadness, wherefore it is greatly to be desired and sought for with all our strength.” – Spinoza (TEI)