Short essays written for the La Jolla Veteran's Hospital newsletter in La Jolla, California
One of the benefits of the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas is that this could be the most “wonderful time of the year." Well, it could be, that is, if we were to adopt a Godly attitude and acquire a Godly spirit that would enliven the season, and hopefully that would last the whole year. This would mean re-orienting ourselves from self-centeredness, consumerism and celebration and instead placing our focus outside of ourselves: that is to say, toward God and the welfare of others.
The spiritual traditions of our country give ample witness to the ability do this. In previous columns I have called Thanksgiving our only real national “holyday;" a day on which we can give thanks to God for all the blessings we have received and share the food gifts we have been given with others, be they family, friends and or acquaintances. For Jewish people, the Hanukkah-Festival of Lights occurs within this season. It is celebrated, not in a raucous merriment, but with a Godly joy. For devout Jews, Hanukkah is both a family and communal affair in which God is thanked for His “mighty deeds and saving acts.” Among Black African-Americans Kwanzaa has been celebrated in recent years. Among its principles are unity, cooperation and dedication, and it can be observed along with Christmas.
A well-known image of the exclusion of God in our lives is the character of Scrooge, the villain in the Charles Dickens novel, The Christmas Carol. He is described as an avaricious and stingy business owner who eschews a life of benevolence, charity, compassion and kindness. Possibly very relevant today, in the view of many in the world concerned about the actions of global banking and industrial institutions. After a series of dreams, purportedly instigated by Marley, his penurious late business partner, who died a miserable death, Scrooge is transformed and changes - to a life of awareness of and empathy for the suffering of others, a life of unselfishness and generosity.
Our Eastern Church Fathers knew well the spiritual illness of the world’s Scrooges, and its cure. St. Theodore the Great Ascetic tells us: "Self-love, love of pleasure and love of praise banish remembrance of God from the soul. Self-love begets unimaginable evils. And when the remembrance of God is absent, there is a tumult of the passions within us." (Philokalia II). Let us all meditate, especially during this holy season, on the poetic description of Ilias the Presbyter (Philokalia III) regarding God's gift to us: "When you free [yourself] from self-indulgence in the body, in food and possessions, then whatever you do will be regarded by God as a pure offering. In exchange, the eyes of your heart will be opened, and you will be able clearly to meditate on the Divine principles inscribed within it; and their sweetness to your spiritual taste will be greater than that of honey."
May the remembrance of God bring sweetness to every aspect of our holiday celebrations, this year and always.
Palmer, G. E. H., Sherrard, P. & Ware, K. (trans.) (1981). The Philokalia: The Complete Text; Compiled by St. Nikodimos of the Holy Mountain & St. Makarios of Corinth, (Vol. 2). London: Faber and Faber.
Palmer, G. E. H., Sherrard, P. & Ware, K. (trans.) (1986). The Philokalia: The Complete Text; Compiled by St. Nikodimos of the Holy Mountain and St. Makarios of Corinth, (Vol. 3). Winchester, MA: Faber and Faber.