Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas 2016: Reflections and Celebrations

It's a cold and wet Christmas Day here in Minnesota, and although I miss spending this special time of year with my family and friends in Australia, I feel very fortunate to have many wonderful friends here in the U.S. with whom I'm able to celebrate all that the Christmas season signifies.

I share this evening a few images of some of the celebrations I've been part of, starting with my Winter Solstice/Christmas party of December 18 and continuing through Christmas Eve and today, Christmas Day. (And updated with images from New Year's Eve!) These images are accompanied by some reflections on Christmas – its meaning and significance. I also take this opportunity to wish all my readers a very happy Christmas and all the best for 2017.

Christ's birth reminds us of the eternally new beginnings God offers to humanity. The grand irony is that we do not have to travel far to discover the Light that animated the Magi's quest. We have only to embrace our highest Selves, and realize humanity and divinity have never been separated. This is the cosmic truth heralded by Jesus of Nazareth's physical manifestation – we are all divine expressions of humanity; capable of being vessels full of grace, truth, love, joy, and peace.

May we allow the Incarnation to illumine our minds, and awaken to the reality of the marvelous presence of God in all things.

Phillip Clark
via Facebook
December 25, 2016

Above: The Christmas Hare! . . . The hare, as you may know, is an ancient symbol of both enlightenment and homosexuality. No surprise, then, that it has long been something of a totem animal for me.

I've had this particular hare sculpture for eight years. It was a gift from my brother and sister-in-law when they visited me from London (where they where then living with my four nephews) in the summer of 2008. It's usually kept inside, though it's also "lived" for periods of time outside in the garden (see, for instance, here, and the photo at right, which was taken in late November).

On the evening of Sunday, December 18 my good friend and housemate Tim and I hosted our annual Winter Solstice/Christmas party.

Pictured with me above are my friends (from left): Pete, Omar, and Raul. I'm wearing a Buffy Sainte-Marie concert tour t-shirt. I was fortunate enough to see Buffy twice in concert this past summer.

Above: My friend Lisa, holding little Amelia, the daughter of my friends Curtis and Liana – December 18, 2016.

And, yes, that's my Christmas tree. Isn't it something? For my 2014 reflection on how the Christmas tree can serve as an icon, inviting us to contemplate the "One Holy Circle" of both dark and light, click here.

Above: Omar, Brent, Pete and Kathleen – December 18, 2016.

Right: Brent and Kathy.

Above: Joan, John, George and Raul – December 18, 2016.

Above: With my friends Brent and Lisa Vanderlinden. For many years, up until 2015, I served with Brent and Lisa on the board of the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (which from 2011-2013 also operated as Catholics for Marriage EqualityMN). CPCSM officially disbanded earlier this year.

Right: The other Brent at my party is the handsome man I've been very fortunate to have been in a dating relationship for over a year now.

Above: Omar, Brent, Javier and Raul.

Left: Amelia loves the piano!

Above: My friend and housemate Tim (second from left) with his girlfriend Colleen and our friends Joan and Matt.

You may recall that my friend Joan accompanied me on a visit back to Australia last year.

Above: Friends (from left) John, Omar, John and George.

Above: Friends Kathleen and Joan – Saturday, December 18, 2016.

The holidays are a time of spiritual preparation, if we allow them to be. We’re preparing for the birth of our possible selves, the event with which we have been psychologically pregnant all our lives. And the labor doesn’t happen in our fancy places; there is never “room in the inn,” or room in the intellect, for the birth of our authentic selves. That happens in the manger of our most humble places, with lots of angels, i.e. thoughts of God, all around.

Something happens in that quiet place, where we’re simply alone and listening to nothing but our hearts. It’s not loneliness, that aloneness. It’s rather the solitude of the soul, where we are grounded more deeply in our own internal depths. Then, having connected more deeply to God, we’re able to connect more deeply with each other. Our connection to the divine unlocks our connection to the universe.

According to the mystical tradition, Christ is born into the world through each of us. As we open our hearts, he is born into the world. As we choose to forgive, he is born into the world. As we rise to the occasion, he is born into the world. As we make our hearts true conduits for love, and our minds true conduits for higher thoughts, then absolutely a divine birth takes place. Who we’re capable of being emerges into the world, and weaknesses of the former self begin to fade. Thus are the spiritual mysteries of the universe, the constant process of dying to who we used to be as we actualize our divine potential.

. . . [T]his is the season when we consider the possibility that we could achieve a higher state of consciousness, not just sometimes but all the time. We consider that there has been one – and the mystical tradition says there have also been others – who so embodied his own divine spark that he is now as an elder brother to us, assigned the task of helping the rest of us do the same. [He] doesn’t have anything we don’t have; he simply doesn’t have anything else. He is in a state that is still potential in the rest of us. The image of Jesus has been so perverted, so twisted by institutions claiming to represent him. As it’s stated in [the book] The Course of Miracles, “Some bitter idols have been made of him who came only to be brother to the world.” But beyond the mythmaking, doctrine and dogma, he is a magnificent spiritual force. And one doesn’t have to be Christian to appreciate that fact, or to fall on our knees with praise and thanks at the realization of its meaning. Jesus gives to Christmas its spiritual intensity, hidden behind the ego’s lure into all the wild and cacophonous sounds of the season. Beyond the nativity scenes, beyond the doctrinal hoopla, lies one important thing: the hope that we might yet become, while still on this earth, who we truly are.

Then we, and the entire world, will know peace.

Marianne Williamson
Excerpted from "Christmas for Mystics"
The Huffington Post

Above: A view of my Christmas tree from the wintry front yard.

Right: Inside by the Christmas tree with my friend Kyle – Monday, December 19, 2016.

On the evening of Friday, December 23, my good friends John and Noelle invited me to be part of their family's annual Christmas tree decorating ritual.

Above: John and Noelle's eldest daughter Liana holding her daughter Amelia – Friday, December 23, 2016.

Above: John and Noelle's second daughter Alicia and her husband Scott – December 23, 2016.

Above: My friend Phil (John and Noelle's son) with his niece Amelia.

Above: Amelia with her Uncle Scott.

Above and below: Two delightful photos of Amelia with her two uncles.

Above (from left): Noelle, John, Phil, Scott and Alicia – December 23, 2016.

Above: Friends Jackie and Benjamin, pictured at the home of our mutual friends John and Noelle – Christmas Day 2016.

Above: With my friend John on Christmas Day.

As a Quaker who believes that “there is that of God in everyone,” I know I’m called to share in the risk of incarnation. Amid the world’s dangers, I’m asked to embody my values and beliefs, my identity and integrity, to allow good words to take flesh in me. Constrained by fear, I often fall short – yet I still aspire to incarnate words of life, however imperfectly.

Christmas is a reminder that I’m invited to be born again and again in the shape of my God-given self, born in all the vulnerability of the Christmas story. It’s a story that’s hard to retrieve in a culture that commercializes this holy day nearly to death, and in churches more drawn to triumphalism and ecclesiastical bling than to the riskiness of the real thing. But the story’s simple meaning is clear to “beginner’s mind,” a mind I long to reclaim at age seventy-five.

An infant in a manger is as vulnerable as we get. What an infant needs is not theological debate but nurturing. The same is true of all the good words seeded in our souls that cry out to become embodied in this broken world. If these vulnerable but powerful parts of ourselves are to find the courage to take on flesh – to suffer yet survive and thrive, transforming our lives along with the life of the world – they need the shelter of unconditional love.

For those of us who celebrate Christmas, the best gift we can others — whatever their faith or philosophy may be – is a simple question asked with heartfelt intent: What good words wait to be born in us, and how can we love one another in ways that midwife their incarnation?

Parker Palmer
Excerpted from "The Risk of Incarnation"
On Being
December 24, 2014

Above: Friends Omar and Kyle – Thursday, December 22, 2016.

Right: With Brent – December 22, 2016.

Let us be at peace with our bodies and our minds.
Let us return to ourselves and become wholly ourselves.
Let us be aware of the source of being,
common to us all and to all living things.
Evoking the presence of the Great Compassion,
let us fill our hearts with our own compassion –
towards ourselves and towards all living beings.
Let us pray that we ourselves cease to be
the cause of suffering to each other.
With humility, with awareness of the existence of life,
and of the sufferings that are going on around us,
let us practice the establishment of peace
in our hearts and on earth.

On Christmas eve I attended a lovely lunch hosted my my dear friend Ken and Carol.

Above (from left): Sue Ann, Tom, Carrie, Carol, Kathleen and Ken.

Left: With my friend Sue Ann – December 24, 2016.

Above: At left with (from left) Carrie, Oscar, Paul, Kathleen and Cass -- December 24, 2016.

Above: Christmas eve dinner with friends Joan and Matt.

Above: My friend Pete on Christmas morning. He braved the icy conditions to come to my home to share breakfast with me! The colorful cushion, decorated with the embroidered image of two male fallow deer, was my Christmas gift to him.

Together we prepared a hearty breakfast, drank mimosas, and enjoyed Loreena McKennitt's To Drive the Cold Winter Away.

Christmas is where Christianity begins, and, as Søren Kierkegaard observes, it is rife with the strange and unexpected. Optimally, then, it should serve Christians as a time to mine tradition and practice not for their most tired applications, but for those that are unexpected and those that lead us in our pursuit of the unexpected.

There is, after all, something revolutionary in Christianity – a tendency to upend, reverse, and radically transform. In Mary’s Magnificat, the song of praise she offers at her meeting with her cousin Elizabeth, she proclaims, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant [. . .] He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” This list of upsets issues from the mouth of a peasant girl who has been promoted to an almost unimaginable status. That the radical reversals of Christmas are enumerated to us by a young woman of no particular social standing is itself an incredible bit of turnabout.

The revolutionary character of Christianity is usually washed out and mostly confined to specific political moments when it’s useful to refer to it. But this selectivity, too, should be upended. Christianity is at all times concerned with the poorest, the most vulnerable, the most oppressed; it is permanently interested in reversing this order, in aiming at and accomplishing the unexpected. Christmas, the moment when time is invaded by eternity, is the moment when the reversal of all oppression becomes not possible but necessary. The unlikeliest upsets of order become, in the moment of Christmas, the beginning of Christianity itself, and remain essential to its character.

There is no Christianity, therefore, that is not revolutionary. It is possible to construe Christmas as another one of those soothingly cozy Christian celebrations, but it is more accurate to construe it as a call to revolution. From this moment on, nothing of the old order can be left intact: Christ has come to uplift the poor and bruised, and his example is Christianity’s command.

– Elizabeth Stoker-Bruenig
Excerpted from "An Unexpected Revolution"
Democratic Socialists of America
December 24, 2014

UPDATE: Pictured above are my friends Liana and Curtis, with whom Brent and I shared a lovely New Years Eve meal at the Good Earth in Roseville, MN.

Seeing the New Year in with (above, from left) John, Matt, Joan, Ian, and George . . .

. . . and (at left) with Brent.

Above: Our New Year's Eve party hosts, John and George.

Above: Cesar, Matt, Joan, and Kurt.

Above: Matt, John, and Stephanie.

Above: Our wishes for 2017.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Christmas 2015: Reflections and Celebrations
Christmas 2014: Reflections and Celebrations
Celebrating the Coming of the Sun and the Son
Christmastide Approaches
The Christmas Tree as Icon, Inviting Us to Contemplate the "One Holy Circle" of Both Dark and Light
Quote of the Day – December 1, 2014
Something to Cherish (2012)
A Christmas Message of Hope . . . from Uganda (2011)
Quote of the Day – December 26, 2010
Christmas in Australia (2010)
John Dear on Celebrating the Birth of the Nonviolent Jesus
A Bush Christmas (2009)
A Story of Searching and Discovery
The Christmas Truce of 1914
Clarity and Hope: A Christmas Reflection (2007)
An Australian Christmas (2006)
A Christmas Reflection by James Carroll

Images: Michael J. Bayly and friends.

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