Tag Archives: christmas

A Different Kind of Christmas List

Underhill Christmas Rules 1921 1-4

Evelyn Underhill’s notes from the King’s College Archives.

Most of us are familiar with writing Christmas Lists. As children we might have been encouraged by our parents to write to Santa Claus, sending him our list of desired gifts. We might have also been told that Santa Claus kept his own “list of who’s naughty and nice.” As we became adults enmeshed in the frenetic holiday craziness, our Christmas lists probably became more numerous and less imaginative – lists of things to do, presents to buy, and greeting cards to send.

Recently, with the help of my friend and colleague Georgie, I discovered that the Christian mystic and writer Evelyn Underhill (1875-1941) also wrote a Christmas list – but a kind I had never seen before. In the archives of King’s College London, you can read three pages of her own notes which she entitled “Rule. Christmas 1921.” Her handwriting is evenly spaced and full of sensuous loops and curves. Like Assagioli, she occasionally underlines, and even double underlines words for emphasis. Underhill’s Christmas list contains her spiritual goals for leading a Christian life, to be tested and practiced by herself for six months – “quietly and steadily, with a disposition to find them true even where uncongenial.” Continue reading

Dark Days before Christmas

Light in the darknessIn northern Europe the days are growing shorter. Except for the oak trees with their withered sienna-brown leaves, most of the trees are bare against a bleak landscape and gray skies laden with cold, damp winds. The Dutch have a saying for this time of year: De donkere dagen voor Kerstmis. The dark days before Christmas. Indeed, every day is shorter and the nights seem to stretch out like a long, endless dream.

We are in the season of Advent, which mark the days before Christmas. Advent comes from the Latin word adventus meaning arrival. We freely use the word advent to simply mean “to come into being.”  This is the time of year that we await the arrival of light when the Earth will once again begin to tilt towards our sun. The days can then slowly “come into being,” promising their full splendor of sunshine and warmth at the summer solstice. For Christians, this is the time during which they await the birth of Jesus, when the Divine comes into being. Continue reading

Dark Days before Christmas

Light in the darknessIn northern Europe the days are growing shorter. Except for the oak trees with their withered sienna-brown leaves, most of the trees are bare against a bleak landscape and gray skies laden with cold, damp winds. The Dutch have a saying for this time of year: De donkere dagen voor Kerstmis. The dark days before Christmas. Indeed, every day is shorter and the nights seem to stretch out like a long, endless dream.

We are in the season of Advent, which mark the days before Christmas. Advent comes from the Latin word adventus meaning arrival. We freely use the word advent to simply mean “to come into being.”  This is the time of year that we await the arrival of light when the Earth will once again begin to tilt towards our sun. The days can then slowly “come into being,” promising their full splendor of sunshine and warmth at the summer solstice. For Christians, this is the time during which they await the birth of Jesus, when the Divine comes into being.

Darkness Inside

For most of us, these days are more than just physically dark. We can also become lost and overwhelmed in all the expectations of the season. The shopping, planning, cooking, baking, wrapping, cards, music, school plays, church concerts. The running and stress, travel and traffic, not to mention all the money worries.

Typically, we are expected to spend time with our families, with the idea that everyone should be happily singing songs around a piano or opening perfect presents or eating gourmet meals. But our reality may actually lead us to feeling only more lonely and unsatisfied. Under pressure by the media and our own unreal expectations, many of us become depressed this time of year and some of us may even feel suicidal.

Assagioli's notes on polarities.

Assagioli’s notes on polarities.

Darker still are the constant reminders, between the tinsel and flashing lights, of the pain and suffering in the world. Not to mention, of course, our own pain and suffering. How can we possibly feel Joy? The entire season can feel like a sham. Bah Humbug! Where is the Higher Self in all this tragic mess?

Balancing Darkness with Light

Simon and Garfunkel once recorded a song called 7:00 News/Silent Night,” in which the familiar carol is quietly and beautiful sung. At first dimly, then more clearly and loudly, we simultaneously hear the voice of a newscaster dispassionately announcing the kind of violent and terrible news we are all too familiar with. Even though, at the end, the voice of the announcer seems to overwhelm the song, the tender voices unceasingly sing – they are not even faintly shaken.

One could experience this song as another symbol of despair – the submergence once again of peace and joy in the harsh violence of our day. But when listened to in its wholeness, the song expresses the reality that light does shine in the darkness. If we tune into the song of peace, we will be able to hear its still small voice singing clearly under the din of the crowd.

Light and dark. Joy and hatred. These are two of the many polarities that exist in the world. Our job is to learn to live with their tension in order to transform and synthesize their energies into a higher reality. Assagioli says that this process is analogous to a chemical combination when two elements are absorbed into a higher unity endowed with qualities different from what each individual element has.

Transforming Opposites into a Synthesis

The idea is to balance these opposites, hold their creative tension, and give space for a completely new and higher entity to be born. You do this by first being with the violent darkness but not identify with it. Then be with the joyful light and not identify with it either. Finally, we need to be with all that is and hold an objective understanding of the tensions between them in order to creatively seek wholeness.

Assagioli insisted that the mid-way point between two opposites is not static inside us, but rather in “a state of continuous oscillation.” We can actually experience this oscillation between Darkness and Light when we listen to the song “7:00 News/Silent Night.”

Once we can hold onto this mid-way point, then psychosynthesis can occur. It is a wise person who can play with opposites and watch with awe as they awaken and manifest into a complete formed higher quality.

So during these dark days before Christmas, practice hanging on and letting go. Hang onto the dark, and then let it go. Then hang onto the light, and let it go. Try to stand in the mid-way point by expressing Human Affection during this season. Then wait quietly and patiently for the advent of Spiritual Love that is quietly, calming, and ceaselessly singing in the world’s chaos.

Join the Magi – Embrace the Sublime

Often the Christmas story is left unfinished. We usually stop right after the three Wise Men offer their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the newborn Child. The part we tend to skip over is the Slaughter of the Innocents. This massacre of all boys two years and younger in and around Bethlehem is a horrific part of the story that doesn’t easily fit into the joy of Christmas.

innocentsDuccio

The story goes like this: Following a rising star in the hopes of paying homage to the Child, the Wise Men from the East first stop to pay their respects to King Herod in Jerusalem. They ask if he knows where the infant king is. When King Herod hears about the Child, he is perturbed by the prospect of a competitor king, as are the chief priests and scribes. Herod asks the priests if they have any idea where the Child is to be born. They cite from the prophecies that the birthplace is Bethlehem. Herod then privately summons the Wise Men and sends them onto Bethlehem, telling them to “Go and find out all about the Child, and when you have found him, let me know, so that I too may go and pay him homage.”

After finding the Child and offering their gifts, the Wise Men are warned by an angel in their dreams not to return to King Herod, but to return home by another road. When Herod learns of their surreptitious departure, he is furious and decrees that all male infants must be indiscriminately killed, hoping that the Child will be among them. Meanwhile, an angel appears to Joseph in his sleep, telling him to leave immediately with Mary and Jesus to Egypt. The three become refugees and are spared from the experience of the slaughter.

The Slaughter of the Innocents is crucial to our understanding of the entire Christmas message. Once a vulnerable child full of Light and Love is born, a powerful leader feels threatened and wants him murdered. His evil desire extends not only to the child, but to many innocent children. What might this story reveal to us today?

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Playing Christmas

1980-01-01 00.04.39

The children are running around like crazy while mothers sort through white robes and gold-tinsel halos to dress the choir of angels. Ayfer, the director of the Christmas play, is showing Mary how to knee, stand up and walk backwards without tripping over her blue veil. Somebody has decided to give the boys who are playing the shepherds each a long stick as shepherds’ hooks. This is a bad idea. Four boys waiting around to be scared by an angel plus four long sticks only mean trouble. They are twirling and jabbing and thrusting the sticks at each other. I go over and tell them (in basic and bad German) that the sticks are not toys. They calm down for about two minutes and then jump up again.

We are rehearsing for the second annual Weihnachtstheater performed by the Sunday school children of St. Jesaja Syrian Orthodox Church in Gronau, Germany. Ayfer, who is a tiny yet formidable presence, lassoed me into helping with the Sunday school about two years ago. My goal was to support the mothers, marginalized within their own community, who try to offer the children a respite from the two-hour Sunday mass every week.

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A Christmas Story of Big Love

School children walk behind three-dimens

I want to write about Love. Big Love. Where do I start? And how can I possibly describe an experience that great visionaries throughout the centuries have attempted to capture in words, art, mystic prayers or song? Plato to Dante, Mozart to the Beatles, Rumi to Julian of Norwich, Bronze-age sculptors to Cezanne – they have all attempted to distill the spiritual essence of Love into matter.

Listen. Here is the Christian Christmas Story: The Higher Self and Transpersonal Will descended upon a young woman. She was frightened but, nevertheless, chose to accept this synthesis of Love and Will, nurture it, and give it birth. She gave birth to this Immense Love called God, embodied as a tiny, vulnerable child born in an abandoned cave. Choirs of angels sang for Joy!

We may wonder today where is this Big Love? How might we give birth to it? A question I often hear is: How can God let innocent children die and cause so much suffering all over the world? I believe that this question needs rewording. How can we let innocent children die, and how can we cause so much suffering in the world? The Big Love is there, everywhere, all around us, ready to fill us, waiting to overwhelm us. And yet, as we readily, hungrily grasp for it, we only too often transform this Love into something less desirable but just as powerful.

Like the Child born in Bethlehem, we too are born full of Immense Love. This love can never be at fault and is always joyful. But later, the choices of what or how we love can lead us and others towards suffering. For example, take a mother’s love for her child. Assagioli describes how initially, the mother joyfully is devoted to the protection and care of her infant. Mothers of small children must use their good will for self-denial in order to direct their energies towards their young ones. But once the child becomes older and independent, this devotion and sacrifice by the mother can turn into attachment and possessiveness.

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Hurry Up and Slow Down!

rushingWho isn’t in a hurry, trying to cross off impossibly long To Do Lists? The other day I was struggling with the feeling of anxiety, running from the post office to the supermarket and pharmacy, home to make dinner, check my emails, finish an editing job. Oh yes! And if I have time, clean the bathroom and kitchen floor. It would also be nice if I could do two loads of laundry …call my mother, a friend, and wash my hair.

Finally I grabbed a hold of myself. This wasn’t easy, as I felt myself rushing past me to move onto the next task! Whoa! Hold on! Why do you feel so anxious? These things will get done in time. Now take your time. With some effort, I was able to pull myself back into what I was actually doing, standing in line at the post office, waiting to send off Christmas gifts back home. Come on, I said to myself. You are now at the post office about to accomplish one of the tasks on your list. You are doing the best you can. Take time to be in line. Then you can move onto the next task. But for now, this is what you are doing, so just breath, relax and enjoy it!

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