In this time of Christmas I am thinking a lot about Christ. Of course, I tend to think about Christ a lot anyways, but what I mean is that I’m thinking a lot about how Christ’s love applies to all of humanity. I briefly wrote in my post about Christmas Carols how I believe that the Christ Consciousness of love, compassion and miracles that Jesus embodied and taught is not limited to Jesus the man or even to Christianity. So, that is the part of Christ I’ve been thinking about specifically. And in this season of warmth, cheer and giving, of Peace on Earth and Goodwill to All, I so long for everyone to be open to receive LOVE in all its myriad and beautiful forms.
I’d say all in all, Christmas and the holidays brings out the best in us – our charity, compassion and generosity – but inevitably some humans will find something to fuss about. So this is also the time of year for arguments about religion, whether it is more right to say “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas” and the supposed War on Christmas. (I don’t think Christmas qualifies as an oppressed minority when every store, town center and neighborhood is decked out in massive amounts of Christmas lights and our whole socioeconomic consumer establishment gears up for the holiday with everything from sales to TV programming to “get it there by the 25th” shipping specials.)
And it’s from both sides of the spectrum. There are the Christians who get outraged if the people greeting you at Macy’s say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” and insist that Santa is Satan and we should just focus on Jesus. And there are the atheists who insist that celebrating Christmas is against the constitution and Santa cannot be scientifically proven so he has no place in schools.
My sister is a really good photographer. For her daughter’s school last year she took pictures of the kids with Santa as they entered into the annual Holiday fundraiser and nearly all the children participated and she helped raise valuable funds for their education. This year someone made a big fuss about how Santa is not what Christmas is about and Santa shouldn’t be allowed in the main hall because Santa violated their religious rights. So my sister and the kindly volunteer Santa Claus were relegated to some distant classroom away from the main event and raised one third of the money they did last year. And it’s silly. Why waste an opportunity for happiness and charity? What is more religious about that?
I really don’t think it matters if you say Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas – what matters is simply the amount of love you say it with. And it’s silly for anyone to get offended when given a greeting of love simply because some word doesn’t fit into your own personal list of preferred words. If someone were to smile and give me a sweet seasonal greeting I wouldn’t care if they wished me a Happy Hanukkah, a Joyous Kwanza, a Sweet Solstice, a Merry Christmas or just the generic humanistic Have a Good Day. As long as we are spreading more love in the world – all the better.
You see, the Consciousness of love, peace and compassion that is in all the Christmas Carols and Santa movies is the same underlying consciousness that has been at the heart of humanity since before any of the religions were even dreamed up. And really, if you just let go of the words and what your mind thinks about them and instead just focus on the feeling or the Presence behind the words, then we’ll realize that we’re all talking about the same Presence. A few days ago I wrote about how sometimes religious words can be associated with religious divisiveness and how we need to reprogram our subconscious minds to get beyond words and into the feeling self. I know this was true for me and my own associations with the words of the Christian language.
In my teens and early twenties I rejected Christianity. I saw a lot of bickering, prejudice and narrow-mindedness in the churches that were around me growing up and it didn’t feel right to me, so I closed myself off to that part of God. Sure, I found Eastern religions, meditation, bhakti yoga and many ways to connect with God, but I was limiting how God could love me. I was saying to God – no, I don’t want your love in the form of the Christ, I don’t want your love through Jesus or even from Christians – I only want your love through sanskrit chants and Tibetan mantras.
Then one day 16 years ago, my sister was visiting me in Asheville for the weekend. We went to the Biltmore House (talk about a photographer’s dream – she must have taken 100 pictures in the gardens alone). Afterwards we went to Biltmore Village, a collection of quaint shops outside of the estate surrounding the church the Vanderbilts built. The church was really beautiful and reminded us of churches in Sweden. The docent told us the music was really good and that the organ is one of the finest on the east coast, so my sister said she’d really like to go the next morning.
I would have never thought to go to a Christian church on my own. But since my sister wanted to go, I said ok. Who doesn’t like some nice music? So, on Sunday morning I went to church for the first time in a very long time.
The church in the Biltmore village is Episcopalian (incidentally called “All Souls Cathedral”) and so the service was traditional with the reading of the bible and the singing of hymns. I was standing in the pew with the hymnal in my hands singing and I started reading the actual meaning of the words of the hymn. I can’t remember which hymn it was specifically, but it was about the Light of the Holy Spirit coming down and entering into our hearts like a flame – it was about us making room to have the Christ Light dwell in our hearts forever.
I was amazed. I was astounded. My heart started expanding and breaking. This was real. I had experienced this very thing in meditation. I had felt the Light of God coming down and entering into my heart like a flame. For years I had been working to make room in my heart for God’s Light to dwell there forever. Whatever old monk or Christian musician who had written this hymn hundreds of years ago had the same experiences that I was having as I was chanting the sanskrit names of God and meditating on the compassion of the Buddha!
I wanted to shout out to everyone in the church who were all calmly singing these words – “This is real! Oh my God! Christ and the Holy Spirit are real!” Instead I just let my heart flow over and tears rolled down my cheeks as I could feel Christ and the Holy Spirit coming down and filling my heart. It was something I had felt before, I just had used different words. But here I was in a Christian church, singing a Christian hymn about the truth of God.
After that Sunday I started going to this sweet Episcopal church every Sunday. Not only that, I went to the Tuesday morning services as well. I went to every service they had, tears flowing from my heart every time. I found so many truths about God in the words of the hymns, the psalms and the readings. I found so much inspiration for my spiritual journey in the sermons. And watching so many people going up for communion to become One with the Body of Christ made my heart burn in my chest with exquisite beauty.
And the people there were so loving and accepting. They had an openly gay deacon who was a major supporter of the local gay and lesbian community. The pastors were open to all religions and could talk to me about books by Sogyal Rinpoche, the Dalai Lama and Shakti Gawain. I had a nose ring and tattoos and I thought the congregation would judge me – but one Tuesday morning after the healing service a sweet Southern white haired lady asked me what the tattoo on my left arm meant and I told her “It’s the Hindu chant Om Namaha Shivaya – it means the God Presence in me honors the God Presence in you.” She nodded and said, “That’s right on! And that’s real pretty.”
I realized that I had been the one who was prejudiced. In all my New Age spiritual focus on loving the world, I had been holding on to all kinds of judgments and attitudes, thinking that there should be respect for all religions, but those Christians just didn’t get it. Yet God was loving the world through Christ and the Holy Spirit for hundreds and hundreds of years but I dismissed it all. Wow – I was the one who wasn’t getting it.
But now I AM getting it! I’m getting God’s love every which way! I am not limiting how God can love me. I am not limiting God to the shape of my own mind. If God wants to love me through Hare Krishna or Alleluia or As-salamu alaykum or Merry Christmas, I say YES!
No matter what your personal beliefs are, why not just receive the love? Why be all bah-humbug because the person giving you the love says either “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas,” depending on what side of the bah-humbug you fall on.
If someone says “Ola” or “Bonjour” or “Guten Tag” – why get upset if it’s not your particular language. Just smile and say hello back. Whether you personally prefer Merry Christmas or Hare Krishna, in essence it means the same thing. So, allow LOVE to enter your heart through baby Jesus, jolly old Santa,the star of Bethlehem, the star of David, the Angels on High, Frosty the Snowman, the generic Holiday Party at work or the all-female living nativity scene featuring the Three Wise Women!
There are no limits to the ways that God can love us if we just say Yes. Just let go of the mental arguments and Believe in Love, Peace on Earth and Goodwill to ALL!