This has been sitting in my “draft” box for awhile. Since I haven’t written much to you of late, I thought I’d shoot it out.
I hope the holiday season went well for all of you. It is such a knife edge to walk — there is the excitement and anticipation, the feelings of inadequacy, the desire to give meaningful gifts, and the sad (and, I would say, “real”) recognition that what was once “over the river and through the woods” has become “over the internet and through the mall.”
This last reality weighs on me. The childhood magic is gone, the religious significance is gone — partly because of the irreligious consumerism of our culture and partly due to our own loss of spiritual simplicity (some would say, “clarity”) — and we are made to look directly at the tawdry underbelly of a culture that has as its primary goal the selling of stuff.
So, the hawkers line up, kill the magic of Santa Claus for children by using him to sell iphones and Toyotas and seasonal brews of beer. It wouldn’t be so bad if those sales pitches didn’t traffic in the images of nostalgia (Can you say, “Budweiser Clydesdales”?). It seems more than a little disingenuous to show us families shaking off the snowflakes and listening to sleighbells only to end up in a Westchester driveway looking at a Lexus with a bow around it.
Do you live in Westchester? Did you get a Lexus? Did you give one?
I may sound jaundiced, and perhaps I am. But I admit to having a deep nostalgia for a time when we had less, did less, and were more able to establish sacred time and space in our families. I think we all make great efforts to create this magic around Christmas, and, by and large, we find ways to do so. But it is not easy.
I think the key is creating new rituals that retain the spirit of giving, and finding ways to bring the story of Christmas back into those rituals. One thing that always strikes me in dealing with Native cultures is how continuous their cultural and spiritual practices are. They may be diluted, but they are continuous. Our cultural practices are discontinuous: baby Jesus in a manger and wise men and a star are anachronistic to most modern Americans, and reduced to myth in order to be kept alive at all.
There are ways to transcend this — to say that God has appointed times and events to reveal the spiritual mystery of the universe, and Jesus is one of them; to say that Jesus and Christmas are alive and embedded in the spirit of giving. But these are not easy for everyone, and for those who do not even acknowledge the spiritual dimension of life beyond ethical norms of human kindness and fellowship, they are as impossible or, at least as uncomfortable, as the actual belief in Jesus as the only Son of God.
So we are left with establishing new rituals around the act of giving and doing lip service to the religious origins of performing these acts at this time of year. Choosing a family to help, visiting the lonely, feeding the homeless — these are fair gestures that draw our hearts back to the act of giving, and, in some measure, counteract the insufferable sense of obligation and pressure that come from pushing our way through a Best Buy to find an electronic gadget to give to someone who probably would remain more humane and connected to humanity without it.
But life is what it is, and we live in the times we were given. Ours is not the first generation to fight against a loss of spiritual clarity and innocence, and we won’t be the last.
As we move into the new year and begin the long slow march toward spring, I hope we keep an eye toward authenticity in our lives. Our culture promotes too many false values, and the best way to stand against these is to live the true values that we hold most dear. Care for the young, bring peace to the old, eschew cynicism and irony to the extent possible, keep anger to a minimum, and have the courage to be kind. These are some of the values that I am trying to keep alive in my life as we slowly move out of the winter darkness. It’s always a struggle; it’s always a slog. But now is the time to lean toward the light. The earth is doing it. Why shouldn’t we?
9 thoughts on “The Season turns. . .”
Such a wonderful piece you have written. So true and exact. Thank you for sharing what others like myself have felt for some time.
Stay in touch and say hello to your family for me.
You have captured exactly how I feel about Christmas. It seems that each year goes faster and faster. What I remember and loved is now so changed. But now, it is a time now to breathe easy with the darkness and feel the whispers of more light. It is a magical time-not influenced by anything material-except, perhaps a candle.
Well said and felt in my heart and memory. I loved the way you have with words…more please! Thank you so much Ken, Bill
Hello again Kent.
What a pleasure it is to have the opportunity to read these beautiful lines of yours! Like Deb and Barb have pointed out, I feel exactly the same way around this time, year after year. We are in the middle of the Southern Brazilian summer, it as hot as an oven today and there is plenty of light around but the darkness, yes, the human heart darkness are as visible and as real down here as they are elsewhere. A couple of days ago, I left the farm where I live and as I headed towards downtown I saw this young family of five, going through one of the garbage collection containers near the road, looking to find anything recyclable so they could sell and make a few pennies. I turned off my radio and drove in silent the rest of the way, asking myself what kind of evil society I am a part of? What kind of person am I, if I belong to a system that allows this insanity to happen, everyday, everywhere around Brazil? There is no easy answer and there is not an easy solution, as long as there are people that use their power and politic position to have more than they need while others are hurting and unhappy, Christmas after Christmas, year in, year out… I feel ashamed!
Your lovely words, so filled with pathos, touch my soul. And I am grateful for that. The dark, that comes with winter here in the northern hemisphere, finds me hunkering down like a seed in the soil awaiting spring. Childhood Christmases are long gone, but what lingers is sweet remembrance. Being in the world, but not of the world . . . ah, now that is both the trick and the way, I think. Your words, so wise, ring true and clear, Kent. I do love so much reading your writings; these long winter nights find me deeply engaged with them gifting me with a wider view and a deeper, more resonate heart. Blessings be upon you in the year ahead and in all the days of your life.
Kent, I read your thoughtful post this morning and I feel the earth in me unthawing. I can find the holiday time challenging (even though you won’t catch me in a mall). The nature of selling all I find sacred freezes me out and, at times, drives me to into a darker, less optimistic place. It’s easy for me to wallow in my cup, half full, and blame consumerism or big corporate powers and leaders that fail to be more human in their attempt to satisfy all the powerful interests pulling at their pant legs. However, we put up the good fight by packaging up homemade gifts, jars of ground up chilies, felted soap bars, jams and homemade cards that try to convey something of our true feelings. My wife and I try squeezing as much meaning into our winter gatherings as we can, ones that don’t leave us flat. What saved me this holiday since mostly I work from home is my piano and desire to sing. Each November I bring out a Christmas songbook that a long-time, lapsed Christian friend gave me years ago. Growing up I was the only Jew in my small town Canadian school and to blend in I went to church with my Christian friends. I found great joy in the songs and rituals, at least the ones that were centered around ‘making room’ for all who are trying to find a place at the inn (secretly I was relieved to simply belong). It’s one of the universal values that seems to make the most sense to me. So I would practice Christmas songs and each day you could be sure I’d call for my wife to sit beside me and sing. My wife takes pride in knowing every verse of King Wenceslas, a story song she finds inspiring. At every holiday gathering we asked our friends and family to gather round our piano in the living room. We told stories, put out our best hopes for this new year, shared what we want to shine a light on. It was the best antidote for my dips into the shadows. So thanks Kent for your words and reminders to keep unearthing what is real and right for me. All the best to you and your folk from here in Toronto,Canada
Today I asked a friend over, one who is being challenged by life’s vagarities. Actually, I’ve been insisting he see the tree and decorations, humble as they are, and share a meal…it was the spirit of giving amplified by the season I wanted to share and cheer him up with.
It has been some years since the real sense and presence of the joy of the season has been made manifest here in the ritual of having a tree, remembering the excitement of childhood, and the joy of sharing with friends a moment to reflect on the communion of the spirit. I am grateful our family gives the gift of charity vs. material items over the holiday as the focus of our material sharing.
But this year, acutally I was given the gift of a good read, one that helped fill my soul with reflection that paralled some of the challenges I am wondering about; and that is, Kent’s, Road Angels. What a rich story.
My aforementioned friend shared the observation that the theme of Dicken’s, A Christmas Carol is a universal, the message a guide for daily life. In touching base on this, we bonded in a way we normally do not, but happy in discovering the reminder of ministering to the greater good.
So much of contemporary culture is just noise, noise we are marketed to to keep listening. Turn the dial, or turn it off, as our brothers and sisters await our challenge to interact human-to-human and discover the joy of the journey.
It starts with each of us….we can talk of how things have changed, and we don’t live in the same world we knew as children, but what’s stopping us from creating that world again ?
What stops you from living a simple life–but the desire to keep up with everyone else?? ….. If we want the simple life… it’s very simple….
Leave the rat race… don’t buy gifts of great monetary value- take time to know what’s of interest to that special person…don’t over schedule the kids… let them go out and play in the yard in the ‘imaginary’ world…. just ‘go back’…
what’s stopping us ?
What’s stopping each of us from living that simple life?
Thank you Kent for your words. In response to Shelley: just my personal opinion living in my 6th decade….the simpler times that we sometimes long for did not include the virtual electronic world that so many are addicted to today.