Ultimate Concern

Most men worry about their own bellies, and other people's souls, when we all ought to be worried about our own souls, and other people's bellies. -- Rabbi Israel Salanter 1810-1883

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Light in the Darktime

Ah, the holidays. Short days, cold weather. Short tempers, cold people. Christmas carols everywhere, muzaked into background noise, perhaps a subliminal message about gifts like Jesus, only somehow translated into gifts like nose hair trimmers and Chia-pets. A dead tree in the living room to symbolize the eternality of life's renewal of itself. Hey--maybe if we put some lights on it, no one will notice its dead.

To many, I seem Scroogian, a curmudgeon of bah-humbugged proportions. I'm not, really. It's not Christmas per se that I harbor such an intense dislike for; it's the religious illiteracy behind it. There's a history of myths about savior-figures who die in a season, to return in the next. Until we had some folks come along who were willing to challenge the ideas about which revolved around what, we had to find ways to explain the changing of seasons, a way to make us want to survive the dark days of winter with hope. We did that with story, with myth. Over time and via appropriations, some of those stories got a little bit twisted around, and somehow, despite their fantastic imagery, those stories got concretized into a literal truth.
Hence, the muzak, the dead tree, the compulsive purchasing of seasonal joy for friends and loved ones.

Jesus is not the reason for the season. Jesus is s symbol of the season, an extrapolation of ancient stories that helped primitive people get through the long, cold days of winter with hope that once again spring might return to the land with its attendant light, warmth, and abundance. And Jesus isn't at the Christmas party alone; there's actually several other religions and cultures who have festivals this time of year, many for similar reasons. It's dark. It's cold. There's hope, and renewal on the way in a couple of months. We're going to survive the winter, and emerge into a fresh, new, re-born world, for which we should be happy and grateful. And then it all starts again So, while it's dark and cold out, why not curl up with a good, religiously literate book and find a personal meaning for this season? Then you can go out and share some real joy--without maxxing the credit card.

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