The Paradox of Christmas

The things we do at Christmas are touched with a certain extravagance…
Robert Collyer

Christmas is like life: too religious for the secularist and too secular for the religious. Christmas as it has been celebrated through the centuries has always swung between legalism and license, celebration and contemplation, social acceptance and rejection by church or state. Christmas seems to be too big and too complex for those who like to have their days neatly boxed, labeled, and pigeonholed. This holiday is too wild and untamed, never neatly fitting into anyone’s paradigm. 

For instance, the founder of Christmas begins life in a manger, crying like a baby. What respectable Almighty, all-powerful diety would countenance such a basic beginning? Yet the Bible says that this baby born to poor parents in an obscure corner of the Roman Empire is God himself come to earth in human flesh. There is great discomfort with the incarnation and the virgin birth and secularists cry, “Impossible! Myth, superstition, religious fanaticism.” Angels coming to shepherds, a star leading wise men from another country, dreams and visions and prophecies and miracles—it all sounds a little strange to those who live in a more utilitarian time. Medieval theologians debated how many angels could dance on a pin, modern secularists won’t even admit that angels might exist. Ancient prophecies and the claim that this Child is their fulfillment sound like fantasies in a world that has decided that prophets are out of date and miracles can all be explained away. Christmas is a difficult time for those who want easy explanations.

If you want to work for the kingdom of God, and to bring it, and enter into it, there is just one condition to be first accepted. You must enter into it as children, or not at all.
John Ruskin

Let us enjoy the paradox of a holiday that is both sacred and secular, Christian and pagan, worshipful and commercial. Let us choose to celebrate with mature faith and childlike hearts. Let us learn to see sanctity in the commonplace, delight in the details, and open our hearts to embrace the contradictions. Let us keep room in our hearts for both God and mankind, heaven and earth.

I choose to celebrate the sacred holiday and incorporate the riches of almost two thousand years of thought, theology, liturgy, and ceremony in my life. I also choose to make Christmas joyous by reveling in ancient traditions, folk customs, carols and songs, and lovely nonsense that may or may not have roots in pagan beliefs. I can sing Oh Holy Night with as much joy as I can dance to the Jingle Bell Rock. I will also make time for quietness to meditate on the meaning of Christmas, to treasure memories of Christmas past, and to pray for future Christmas hopes. 


The greatest gift that can come to anyone is to share in the infinite act by which God’s love is poured out upon all men.
Thomas Merton

I choose to be a child again at the sight of a lighted Christmas tree. I also choose to be a sophisticated adult, dressed up for a wonderful party. I’ll shop in malls and worship in church. I’ll spend money on a sinfully delicious chocolate truffle and write a check for my favorite charity. Christmas is a festival of light celebrated during the darkest part of the year. It’s an orgy of spending in a commercialized environment and an opportunity to listen to wonderful choirs singing about the love of God for mankind which is without price. It’s a family reunion, good fellowship time and the time when I feel most lonely in a crowd. Secular saints like Santa Claus and angels singing glory hallelujah in a starry night are both images I can live with. And  I will especially remember the paradox of God come as a child to earth to lift us up to heaven’s heights. I intend to revel in the paradox of Christmas, in all its glory and messiness. Care to join me?

Oh rich and various man! Thou palace of sight and sound, carrying in thy senses the morning and the night, and the unfathomable galaxy in thy brain, the geometry of the City of God; in thy heart, the power of love.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord.  Praise ye the Lord.
Psalm 150:6 (KJV) 

Asked to declare the new beverage, coffee, unholy, Pope Clement III sampled it and declared instead: “This Satan’s drink is so delicious, it would be a pity to let the infidels have exclusive use of it. We shall fool Satan by baptizing it and making it a truly Christian beverage.”

Simple Sensory Rituals

Morning Teatime

Morning Teatime

The ordinary is the extraordinary
Gustav Flaubert

Simple sensory rituals bring comfort and grounding to daily living. They nourish the soul. To observe the ordinary and become mindful of the sacredness of life itself, whether handling daily chores or taking time out for small innocent pleasures, is a statement of profound spiritual power. You wed Heaven and Earth as you focus on the beauty and meaning of even the most mundane task. 

There are many routine activities where I can focus on mindful awareness and a sense of the sacred. Some are simple chores like dishes, laundry, cleaning, and preparing food where I can consciously practice the Presence of God. Others, like emails, writing, financials, and things that take focus and concentration, just have to be made sacred by setting an intention and then doing the work. I don’t make a big deal of rituals for most of these things, though I do love to make time for some kind of ritual in my life.

One of the tasks that can feel like a cleansing ritual is doing the laundry. From dumping the soiled clothing into the washer, and adding soap and warm water, the alchemy of cleansing begins as the soil, stains, and dirt are released and washed away. Drying the clothing is an act of returning to form as the twisted wet cloth relaxes and releases back to a soft and original shape. Then the ceremony of returning the garments to their proper places in closet and drawer makes the clothing accessible, returning them to beauty and usefulness once again. 

Bring the muse into the kitchen.
Walt Whitman

The very commonplaces of life are components of its eternal mystery.
Gertrude Atherton

You are to gather up the joys and sorrows, the struggles, the beauty, love, dreams, and hopes of every hour that they may be consecrated at the altar of daily life.
Macrina Wiederkehr

Some other sensory rituals that lead me to a sense of safety and expansion:

• Cleaning the planters on the first warm day after a long cold winter (or planting, or trimming back, or digging my fingers in good brown dirt).
• A bouquet of roses—and when the timing is right, sunlight and a digital camera to photograph their glorious beauty
• Writing poetry or a song lyric
• Beeswax candles lighting the room and scenting it with honey sweetness
• Essential oils of desert sage, pinon pine, and spruce releasing a high desert fragrance in my home
• Early bed for much needed rest
• Meditation, especially helpful when I’m feeling overwhelmed
• Bells, chimes, rattles, drums
• Colored pens or pencils, a notebook/ crayons and a coloring book
• Singing, especially singing my own songs
• A cup of hot jasmine oolong tea in my hands as watch a sunset 

Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hahn offers many ideas for ways to be mindful and aware in his books and writings. Here is one suggestion:

Prepare a pot of tea to sit and drink in mindfulness. Allow yourself a good length of time to do this. Don’t drink your tea like someone who gulps down a cup of coffee during a workbreak. Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the whole earth revolves—slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future. Live the actual moment. Only this actual moment is life.
Thich Nhat Hahn, The Miracle of Mindfulness