Saturday, December 24, 2011

Silent Night, Holy Light

The incomprehensible vastness of our universe is never felt more keenly than when we look up into the dome of a starry night. If the sky were a solid black, fear might consume us. Awe wins out, though, in the shining of those stars, those innumerable points of light. No words are possible, none are needed. Humility rises of its own accord, and all falls into its proper place.

Perhaps this is why the essence of Christmas has always shone most fully for me within the darkness of the night that precedes it. As a child, Christmas morning was all about the presents. The night before, however, we touched the sacred.

Though the nature of this experience changed as I did, light was always the entryway. Just as in a starry sky, in each of my Christmas memories it was the light shining within the darkness that proclaimed the holiness of this night.

As young children we’d pile into the station wagon dressed in pajamas and winter coats to travel through a world transformed. Enchanted, we’d ooh and aah at trees decked out, houses strung with colored bulbs, the occasional sleigh and reindeer on lawn or rooftop~~all awash in light, dazzling light.

If we hadn’t fallen asleep before we returned home, we’d sit in a living room lit only by the twinkling magic of our own tree and the single bulb within the nearby crèche. The delicate light within an otherwise darkened room brought that timeless scene to life~~the smell of sweet hay, the warmth of the gentle animals, Mary and Joseph, baby Jesus in his manger, angels watching from above.

As I grew older, Midnight Mass was added. Again, it was the light that spoke strongest to me as a plentitude of candles joined with the pungent smell of incense to transform our church into a place far more holy than it was on any Sunday morning.

Not all of us have such idyllic Christmas memories, however. The night sky is not the only darkness we humans confront. There is the shadow side of the human spirit that shows itself in Christmases blighted by poverty, drunkenness and violence, by spirits riddled with pain and despair.

And yet, light shines even there, as children find wonder in the smallest things and believe in magic despite the bleakness of their days or the horror of their nights. Children, it seems, are especially equipped to find light amid darkness. Maybe that’s why Christ loved them so and stressed our need to become like them. Finding light within darkness is perhaps a necessary trait for entering heaven.

While no one knows the exact date of Christ’s birth, the early church chose well in picking a time close to the winter solstice. As the turning point in earth’s journey around the sun, the solstice is always a celebration of light. What better time to honor Christ? Light incarnate. True Light from True Light. Bodhisattva, Enlightened One.

On this Christmas eve~~this silent night, this holy night~~let us open to the Light streaming forth. Let it shine within our joy. Let it shine within our darkness.


Let it shine…

Let it shine…

Let it shine, shine, shine!!!

A belated Happy Hanukkah!
A belated Happy Solstice!
Merry Christmas!
Happy Kwanzaa!

No matter the tradition you honor, I send you wishes for a transformative New Year! Hold onto your hats~~as well as your centermost point~~as it promises to be a doozy!!!


Loanne Marie

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Face of Love

“Jesus gave me the message,” noted Martin Luther King, Jr., “Gandhi showed me the method.” He was referring, of course, to love as enacted through non~violence.

This theme was explored in a recent panel discussion at the University of Arkansas entitled "Turning Swords into Ploughshares: The Many Paths of Non~Violence.” The panelists were the Dalai Lama; Sister Helen Prejean, advocate against the death penalty featured in the film Dead Man Walking; and 80~year~old civil rights activist, Vincent Harding.

The Dalai Lama, in his broken English, began the discussion with what may seem a rather audacious statement. “I consider basic human nature is…gentleness.” Gentleness?!! What about survival of the fittest, aggression, and all the rest?

He supports his point by noting that since humans are born helpless and in need of care, the ability to bond is primary. He believes this points to “compassion, human affection,” as the core quality of the human species.

He goes on to reference continuing scientific evidence that emotions such as anger, fear and worry are harmful to the human organism, while love, forgiveness and kindness are conducive to health on all levels and, therefore, more in harmony with basic human wiring.

“The compassionate mind,” he concludes, “is very good for the society, very good for the family, very good for individual.”

Sister Helen Prejean spoke of witnessing convicted murderer Patrick Sonnier’s execution and choosing to be “a loving face” for him at the end. She also shared her hesitation to reach out to the families of those Sonnier had slain. When she did so, though, she was greeted not with the anger she had feared, but by a palpable relief.

Prejean quotes parent Lloyd LeBlanc as saying, “Sister, you can't believe the pressure on us to be for the death penalty, and I've had nobody to talk to. Where have you been?" She relates how this brave soul refused to give in to baser, though completely understandable, emotions. She shares LeBlanc’s words: “I didn't like the way it made me feel when I went to that place of hatred and bitterness…They killed our son, but I'm not going to let them kill me.”

Harding shared a similar story in the reactions of two friends to the bomb that killed 4 Sunday school children in Birmingham in 1961. Civil rights workers Diane Nash and James Bevel overrode an immediate urge for revenge and instead deepened their commitment to non~violence. Harding paraphrases them as saying, “We cannot copy that terrible path of violence. That is not who we are. That is not what we believe in…We must respond, but we must find another way.”

Non~violence is not a technique. It is not, in Gandhi’s words “…a garment to be put on and off at will. Its seat is in the heart and it must be an inseparable part of our being.” When we commit to transforming what King referred to as our “internal violence of the spirit,” a loving response becomes more accessible, no matter the situation.

My friend Val told of a mentally ill young man who was being loud and disruptive during a recent General Assembly (GA) meeting at Occupy Denver. “Five folks just gently stood by him,” Val shared in a recent email, “and, as a circle, slowly moved him outside of the larger circle, just listening to him. Since he had those 5 sets of ears, he just followed them.

“For an hour they listened to him rant,” she continued, “but well away from the group, so the GA could go on. After an hour, he calmed down and walked away.”

How very beautiful! To listen with kind attention to the cursing tirades of a wounded soul is not a tactic.
That kind of response comes from the heart. It is non~violence in action, love made manifest.

And yet non~violence may be only the beginning. In Harding’s words, “I'm deeply convinced now even more than I was then, that when we…commit ourselves to the building of humanity, then all kinds of forces…become available to us, and we are able to do much more than we ever dreamed.”

So let us love one another as Jesus instructed, and let us do so within the commonplace events and muck of human life. In the process, we just might find ourselves part of something much larger~~the healing of a world.

With love,

Loanne Marie

You can view the panel discussion in its entirety here.

And here’s a transcript, if that works better for you.