Posts Tagged ‘Merry Christmas’

with exceeding great joy

December 23rd, 2020    -    13 Comments

The other night I lay sleepless for hours after midnight and thought about how my sisters and I slept in the back of our station wagon on long trips, because even short trips were long to us then, squished together on a hard pallet of blankets and pillows—and I wondered how it is that these days I can toss and turn the night away in my own comfortable bed.

These are terrible times, more terrible than last year’s terrible, and terrible beyond the terrible twice removed, just a terrible terrible, even though there is less terrible on the way.

When I talk to people these days we usually mention the good that has been shown to us in this harrowing trip over rough country. For one thing, we now know how much we can do without.

And I’ve also noticed how this Christmas reminds me so much more of the original Christmas, or at least the original Christmas story, the one with no room at the inn. And although they don’t tell us how Mary and Joseph traveled in those days, she was great with child, and it couldn’t have been comfortable in a cart or on a donkey, even less on foot, which they likely were, over dusty plains and hills, for ninety miles. Ninety! And even when they got to their ancestral home, there was no rest to find, no place to stay, no one to take them in, and so like us they had to scrabble together under a rotting roof in their own humble way.

There were animals with them, animals being more hospitable than people and altogether a finer sort of company. Eventually some shepherds showed up, and they were raggedy too, living out in the open as they do, grubby but good-natured and kind.

It was night, it was dark, and there was solace in that, not fear. It was the dark that made the station wagon peaceful. It was the night that made the shepherd’s sky so bright. It is the deep shadow of uncertainty that has taught us to wait for the light. It is humility that makes us great, and terrible things that bring us to wisdom.

And when they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. — Matthew 2:10

Photo by Blair Fraser on Unsplash

the last word

December 21st, 2017    -    10 Comments

A few days ago I got a letter in the mail. The letter was written almost a year ago, after I’d quit social media and invited people to write me letters instead. Funny thing was, the letter had somehow disappeared into a stack or a drawer (like the one on the left side of this desk) and never been mailed to me. When the writer found it again after all this time, she sent it along anyway. Turns out everything she’d written about herself still applied, and all the questions she had for me naturally remained unanswered, so I wrote her back.

Perhaps what I write here will be a little like that. This time of year always brings the cycle back around to where we started.

A year ago I got off Facebook and Twitter because I thought the election provided pretty good evidence that social media corrodes our society and degrades our intelligence. Research is coming out that says just that. Several months later, I began using Facebook again, not because I changed my mind about it, but because people no longer seem to read email, and I need to reach folks in a more reliable way than telepathy. The fact that people don’t use email much anymore means that our ability to communicate with one another in a measured and thoughtful way has been further diminished. Why take the time to pound out so many words when what you really want to do is scream!!!

It’s hard for folks to realize that social media is not a human connection in the same way that a conversation is. We are addicted to it (I hope that no longer needs to be debated) and so we run the risk of behaving digitally in the same uninhibited way we might if we were drunk or on drugs. We don’t put ourselves in the place of the person or persons we are “talking” to because they aren’t even there. So what we post on Facebook or Twitter runs the risk of being about as scary as the sociopathic babble of the taxi driver Travis Bickle talking to himself in the mirror. (Click this link to see what I mean.)

I’m as much to blame for spouting off as anyone, but Facebook has convinced me that no one out there is waiting to hear what I think. So far, I haven’t made mortal enemies of anyone but a few fed up family members and friends. And I’m not sure that would have happened if we weren’t all talking into mirrors.

There’s a word that comes up a lot these days: “weaponized.” I suppose when you live in a world at war with itself everything is a weapon. I don’t much like it when folks stick an -ize onto a noun and make up a verb, but in this case I do believe that social media has given us a way to weaponize our words with bump stocks, making them fully automatic and firing them from the 32nd floor into a concert crowd at 9 rounds a second. I don’t much like that I’ve become familiar with those words either. So, yeah, words kill.

Despite all these misgivings, I’ve learned quite a lot about how to use social media responsibly this year, giving myself these 5 reminders to make the world better through Facebook:

1. Give encouragement. People are angry, sad, sick, lonely, and discouraged enough already.

2. Refrain from giving advice. Those who ask probably don’t need it and those who don’t ask don’t want it.

3. “Like” pictures of kids or pets, especially kids and pets in Halloween costumes. Small acts of kindness aren’t small.

4. Honor everyone’s privacy, especially the privacy of your kids. Don’t let them suffer the indignity of your pride or imprudence.

5. Only offer what you need to see yourself: words and pictures that will support, guide, calm or uplift you. After all, you’re the only one here.

If these guidelines keep you from getting what you want from Facebook, then it can’t be found there. Find a real friend instead, and do what it takes to keep them. Your life will be immeasurably enriched.

unto us a child is born

December 16th, 2015    -    9 Comments

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A woman came to the retreat in Kansas City in October. With her doctor’s permission, she had driven three hours from Iowa to be there. She was 34 weeks pregnant and, as you might expect, radiant. But in her case there was a little more to it: after nine years of infertility, miscarriages and stillbirth, here she was. The chance had been so slim, the journey so grim, she never believed she could get this far.

The truth is always like that: unbelievable.

She smiled all weekend. Fear and doubt had fled her face. She was beginning to let herself feel blessed. After we parted, I kept an eye on her as the remaining weeks passed. The baby was late. In the final days she went to and from the hospital over and over in false labor. Her burden was heavy. Nothing seemed to happen. The good news never came. I was worried.

Up close, possibilities seem to disappear.

Two days ago she sent me the first pictures of her newborn son swaddled in her arms. One look and I recalled that wide-open sense of wonder. Love surpassing all pain, resting in the infinite circle of light. The night has passed! The baby has come! Suddenly, everything is perfect, everything is possible. Not one thought creased either brow. Together they have attained grace.

Mother and child are doing beautifully.

The promise of a spiritual path is like this: to return to the natural state of fulfillment and ease. The old masters call it “the circle of wonder.” In it are the boundless love of a mother and the eternal innocence of a child. To be sure, the journey is difficult. Obstacles mount. Expectations fail, hope sinks, fear overwhelms, and you have to do it alone. Alone! Not even the helpers can help.

Who among us is willing? Who indeed.

Last weekend I sat a retreat with many newcomers. Newcomers uplift me, and yet, I worry. Silent retreats are always powerful, but this one struck like thunder. Not everyone could ride the storm. Alas, in Zen as in life, there’s no shelter at the side of the road. No avoiding, no denying, no way out. Fear must be overcome. Peace must prevail. Near the end of the retreat, the newest newcomers came by ones to see me alone. How is your retreat? I asked, although the awed stillness on their faces told it in full. Wonderful, came the quietest replies. Amazing. Lovely. Indescribable. Life-altering.

Doubt fled my heart, and I let myself feel blessed. The night has passed; the prophecy has been fulfilled. Now peace is at hand and the possibilities are endless.

Let it begin with me.

And he shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. — Isaiah 9:6

Merry Christmas Everyone. Peace on Earth. Goodwill to Men.

Silent light

December 23rd, 2009    -    4 Comments

In a mind clear as still water
even the waves, breaking,
are reflecting its light.

– Dogen Zenji

Merry California Christmas from my shore to your door.

Stacking up: a taste of my laundry

December 14th, 2009    -    24 Comments

I started at 8 a.m. this morning and finished the last load at 5 p.m. Today was laundry day; everyday could be laundry day. And at this dark hour, on this late day of this long year, some things are done but other things are not.

The holiday greetings did not get out. This will have to do.

In a few days we leave for a foggy stay at a nearby beach before coming home for Christmas and a breakfast of – naturally – banana pancakes. With that in mind, with you in mind, with everything done and undone still on my mind, I offer you this taste of my latest confection, the first audio excerpt of my new book, Hand Wash Cold: Care Instructions for an Ordinary Life. It may be something you’ve read before or heard me say before. Either way, I know in my bones on this chilly, silent night, in my holey socks and nubby sweater, with the dog asleep and the room aglow, just me telling you my homemade story amid the sounds of my house, that you will love it. My hope is that you will stir that love into your own holiday brunch, dinner, and every meal after. I’ll try to do the same.

The most we can do for one another is listen. You’ve already done everything for me, and more.

Happy holidays, friends, brothers and sisters, all. I love you.

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