Sunday, December 18, 2011
Whatever holiday you are celebrating this time of the year, Hanukah, Chalica, Yule, Kwanza, Buddha’s birthday, Diwali, Christmas, even Agnostica or Festivus… it’s all about hope.
That’s something we all need, whatever form it comes in.
We need hope…especially when it is dark or cold outside…maybe even more so, when it is dark or cold inside.
Whether lack of light and warmth is a result of less daylight in winter, or derived from an emotional, political or theological state of being, the human spirit needs to believe that something brighter and warmer will soon arrive.
It is no wonder, really, that the winter holidays and holy days are designed by rule or by accident to bring cheer and good tidings to all. Ancient and modern party planners know: we need the power of hope to lift the dreary world…
Isn’t it a shame that we quarrel like siblings over which “holiday” is the “real” or the better one? What difference does it make, if whatever we are celebrating makes us…helps us to be… hopeful, joyful, at peace?
As far as I can see every one of the winter holy days is a blended family kind of affair. Every celebration takes a little of that and a little of this, and tries to come up with what might delight the mind and lift the spirit this season, prodding us to turn with radiant anticipation, to focus on the coming of something better.
Whatever works! We need to feel hope! Every human being needs to know that they can rest… merry with anticipation that something is on the horizon, just around the corner….
I used to think just having hope was enough. Just waking up with hope…that this morning, or the next, or the next, will be the morning that something so fine and perfect will just be there “under the tree” and all will be well…
Now I know; it just doesn’t work like that. The delivery truck isn’t likely to stop at my house, unless I ordered something! Gifts aren’t going to just appear under the tree unless I go out and get them…
What comes is what we are willing to work for, pay for, take a risk for…
It not just wishing and praying that makes something worth hoping for come. It is what we do to step into the future, to make the future present.
A few weeks ago, I got a message that I had somehow been put on a list of people to be interviewed by the Brody School of Medicine. Seems the school is doing an appreciative inquiry type of survey to determine what their next long range plan will be. Appreciative inquiry is a method where one starts conversations by asking about what has worked well. Instead of trying to solve problems, or address deficiencies, you focus on understanding why things really clicked when they did and how that might be duplicated.
So, I was interviewed last week and I was asked to describe an experience I had been through that felt like one where my hopes and dreams for what could be had been fulfilled. I thought of a lot of examples, but I started by sharing what I found so great about the Interfaith Thanksgiving Service.
It felt really great to see and to hear persons from very different faith communities who often have good reason to be afraid of other’s judgment, even hostility, bring their most precious spiritual practices into a “public” gathering. For me it was like witnessing a truth telling, a coming out, where folks brought what they usually do “in private” or at least with those who they feel safe with, to a more open space. This year, it was the Pagans who seemed to especially appreciate having been invited and then accepted as equals on the interfaith thanksgiving “stage”. It felt good to have been a part of helping that happen. It felt even better during the fellowship time that followed to see and hear so many different kinds of people in the room together sharing… It felt new and exciting to witness and be a part of so many different kinds of people together in Greenville; at ease, grateful and delighted with each other.
So when the interviewer asked me what I would advise the School of Medicine to do in light of what I had described, I said “celebrate differences”. Create an atmosphere and opportunities where no one need be afraid to share what is precious for them. Be sure there is an atmosphere of reward…for vulnerability and truth telling…
I know that the more times one takes a risk to live authentically in the light of what could be, the easier it will be to keep doing that over and over until that one day is every day.
Whatever holiday or combo platter of holidays you are celebrating this season, it is my hope that you know that the most important gift you can give is not necessarily any “thing”, but an open door to a future bright and warm…especially when you offer that on a cold, bleak winter day.
My colleague, the UU minister, Victoria Safford said in an article she wrote for The Nation, called “The Gates of Hope” that “once you have glimpsed the world as it might be, as it ought to be, as it’s going to be…., it is impossible to live anymore compliant and complacent in the world as it is.”
Give the gift of restlessness with what is...
I hear a lot about how Christmas in particular, out of all the winter holidays, ought to be about remembering the so-called perfect moments from the past.
What I hope we do is go about creating the perfect moments so the future is present now.
To be a hopeful people on a mission, we must live not in the past, but keep moving towards the future…
And that my friends, involves learning to resist not only the past, but living without compliance or complacency with the world as it is…
The ancient and modern winter holiday party planners weren’t dreaming up celebrations hoping for just enough light to balance the darkness, for a brief touch that would temporarily warm a cold heart; they wanted to create a big fire that would light up our passion for living towards tomorrow.
In order to go there…we cannot turn a blind eye to what is wrong. How could we be so deaf, so blind, so hard-hearted anyway that anyone of us would dare to think everything is alright? It’s not. It is already a hard winter, with cold and desperate situations, with haters everywhere… greed and lies and false hope delivered at our doorsteps every day.
And horrifying proof of terrible realities …abound.
I just heard a day or two ago that more soldiers died of suicide last year that died in the wars in Afghanistan or Iraq.
There are so many gifts the world needs from us.
Victoria Safford goes on to say; "Our mission is to plant ourselves at the gates of hope—not the …gates of Optimism, which are …narrower; nor the … boring gates of shrill and angry hinges (people cannot hear us there: they cannot pass through); nor the cheerful, flimsy garden gate of “Everything is Gonna Be All Right.” But a different, sometimes lonely place, of truth-telling about your own soul and the place of resistance and defiance, from which you see the world both as it is and as it could be, as it will be; the place from which you glimpse not only struggle but you in the struggle.”
During the School of Medicine interview, I shared another example of what it means to me to be there when things are clicking…
I started by saying I have been very privileged to have had others open a door for me, when I was hopeless, angry, alone… I have felt suicidal. I have had dear friends who succeeded in hating themselves to death.
A person called me last week wanting to know if I could help them with their struggle to find peace with their spirituality, with God. They came to my office. I heard their story of struggle and of discovery. I heard everything they would risk losing to be free to be who they had finally realized they really were. I heard what a huge risk they would be taking to make that next step into the future.
Was it my role to push them off the cliff, not knowing for sure if they would, could fly?
Yes, I think it was. It was the gift I think they came for…
I told this story to the interviewer. I asked him to write down for the School of Medicine to read…that healing is about helping that which is struggling to be born live…
That’s the gift we celebrate. That is what the party is for.
It’s not for the new toy under the tree. It is for the shining, bright, embrace of a life being born. The welcome you extend, the “being with” you practice, could be bringing in the future, could be the gift that makes all the difference between life and death.
That’s what the mid-winter party is for, to light a fire big enough to show the way to the gifts that make all the difference….
The shiny, bright, the warm embrace you give could save a life, could save all our lives.
Posted by Rev. Ann Marie Alderman