Yes, Virginia, There is a Buddha Claus(e)

1110151709aI’ve been asked several times in the last few weeks, “Now that you’re a Buddhist are you going to have Christmas?”  I love discussions about spirit, meaning, and faith (so if you want to have one – hit me up!) but I have found this question a little odd.  It’s like asking someone, “Now that you’re vegan are you going to have Thanksgiving?”  Of course they are – it just won’t be turkey based.  Of course I’m having Christmas! The center of my holiday won’t be the birth of Christ but the meaning of Christ, and the Miracle of Lights, and the guidance of Kwanzaa, and the silly grievances of Festivus will all be with me.  I’m going to have the three things this season encompasses best – light, magic, and peace. Plus fudge. I plan to have lots of fudge.

Fudge can deck my halls any day!

Fudge can deck my halls any day!

A Season of Light

Light, like seasons, doesn’t need to have a reason, or even permission, to shine. No one owns light (sorry, Dominion Power). Light is precious and life-giving. It maintains its own being. You can shutter out the light, but the sun isn’t going away. Light is something celebrated in almost every spiritual tradition. The Menorah represents the miracle of light, the star over Bethlehem – the arrival of light, Kwanzaa the representation of the qualities of light. My non-religious friends put candles in the window when someone is out in a storm as a sign of hope that the person will find their way home. Light guides, light heals, light inspires, light saves.

In Buddhism, we believe the light is not an external thing, simply shining around us, but an internal flame – glowing within us. We meditate and connect with the light inside that shows us the reality of the present moment and our place in it. What better time than the darkest season to celebrate the fact that even when I’m in darkness, there is a light in there somewhere.

There's even a light over at the Frankenstein place. (c) 1975, 20th Century Fox

There’s even a light over at the Frankenstein place.
(c) 1975, 20th Century Fox

A Season of Magic

One of the core messages of Shambhala Buddhism (the lineage Cathy and I have taken refuge vows in) is that “there is magic in every moment.”  Nowhere is that more evident than in the Christmas season.

  • The way the whole world smells like gingerbread and spiced apple cinnamon is magic.
  • The desire to give as a way of showing love to others is magic.
  • The food your mom makes because your grandma made it because her grandma brought the recipe over from the Old Country is time travel (hence, magic).
  • The colors, lights, and music everywhere you turn is magic. (For you people who complain about Christmas music in stores coming too early – can’t you just admit hearing that first chorus of “Have a Holly, Jolly Christmas” is a lot more magical than yet another replay of Hall and Oates, “Your Kiss is on my List.”)
Okay - so that hair is magic.  (c)1980, RCA Records

Okay – so that hair is magic.
(c)1980, RCA Records

A Season of Peace

Above all, this season is one of the few times we vocalize our desire for, and recognition of, peace. As a Buddhist, one of my main desires is remember we are all connected to one another and for all of us to be liberated from the suffering our world, each of us needs to be able to visualize and desire peace.

As more and more people seem to be finding ways to use the holiday season in its many incarnations as a way to divide us, I find this holiday to have great potential for us to remember we are in this together.

Mmmm..diversity - so sweet.

Mmmm… diversity – so sweet.

The truth is – seasons don’t need reasons. They come as they are with their unique weather patterns, foods, and frolic. They don’t come with rules, requirements, shame or expectations. They just show up. We, humans, are the ones who need reasons. It may just be the seasons’ view that we are welcome to any reason we can find. SO:

To my Christian friends for whom Jesus is the only reason: I hope you have an abundance of Jesus is your world this Christmas. May it be full of grace, mercy, sacrifice, and love.

To my Jewish friends who celebrate the festival of lights: I wish you glorious miracles and as many of those chocolate coins as you can handle.

To my friends who celebrate every other tradition I don’t know or understand well – I wish all the good things that come with them – and I wish you would teach me about them.

To my atheist/agnostic/apathetic friends who just want to have a party, eat good food, and sing loudly – Dude – What time should I show up? What can I bring? Do you have enough Chex Mix?

To my Buddhist friends and dear Sanghas –  both the Open Heart Sangha and The Buddha Center (second life) – metta, love, and kindness – You’ll see me sitting with you. I’ll be the one in the Santa hat.

“And I heard him exclaim as he drove out of sight, Merry Christmas to All, and to ALL a good night.”

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Leaving Christianity: An Exit Interview

interviewTypically, when someone leaves a large corporation they are given a form or interview to explain why they chose to go somewhere else. Corporate big-wigs long ago realized that people staying with the company aren’t as likely to be open about the reality of what’s happening. The view from someone who no longer has a reason to hide their feelings is valuable to help those who remain. In a way, it is a last gift of the departing to the co-workers staying on the job. I hope my Christian friends see the heart I have for them and their road, even as I leave with some clear observations.

I toyed with this post for months – because I didn’t feel like I had anything to say anyone would care about and it can be seen as a rant. Okay, some of it is a rant. Pretty much, the response of Christian leaders and friends once you turn in your gold cross lapel pin is – “well, that’s just sour grapes” or “that’s your experience – OUR church isn’t like that.” So, why bother? Besides, I was taught it is rude to point out what you don’t like at a buffet (and Christianity is definitely a buffet) – just take what you want and sit down.

I decided to write after some good and heart-felt conversations with friends after I announced I was taking refuge (formally declaring myself a Buddhist) a few weeks ago. Many have suggested it was the Christian wailing and gnashing of teeth over gay marriage, or that vomit-inducing fake post about the red on the Confederate flag being the “blood of Christ” (REALLY?!), or just a bad experience with a church here in Virginia. None of that is true (in fact, the last Christian church I was in – The Gayton Kirk – was probably the best church I could have ever been in – except, I was already walking away from Christianity by the time I got there.). I’d been studying dharma, meditating and journeying for a few years now. It wasn’t a new decision – or even really a decision. I can’t name the day I said, “I’m not a Christian anymore.” I just looked around and began to slowly notice, I was somewhere else. But, there were things that cut the brush and made a path that led away more clear. This post is about those things.

In the end – it wasn’t the bigotry, the battles or the building fund that cut the trail leading me to a new place. It was all the fear.  So – the Exit Interview. It’s not about “You” – the individual Christian, or “You” a certain church, or “You” a certain denomination, political bend (I find very little difference between the vocal/rigid conservative right and the silent/ineffective liberal left), or specific type of belief.. It’s “You” – Christianity – the whole uniquely American/Western shebang. It’s not personal – and yet, it is.

You are afraid to follow Christ.

As I’ve told many in the last few weeks, there is a person that Jesus taught people to be – and I want to be that person. But Christianity has failed to follow those instructions and I am not able to become or awaken to that person within the present environment. I have been very clear, though. I did not leave because Christianity was failing me. I left because I was failing to be me within it.

Western Christianity seems to have given up following the words and teachings of Jesus and swapped it out for the extreme worship and adoration of him. Whether he is on the cover of Time, headlining a movie, or appearing the chorus of country song – Jesus is an object of love and pure devotion.

Jesus cover

The problem is, that wasn’t why he came. While we’ve been busy making him some sort of First Century rock star – the poor have been hungry, the prisoners abused, the sick denied medical insurance, and Samaritans of all kinds left on the side of the road to die. Following Jesus is different than worshiping him. It’s work, and it sometimes means being mobile, generous and uncomfortable. It means:

  • Instead of crying tears at a revival because we are overcome by His glory – we are crying tears in the street because we mourn the dead killed because of their race, their social status or their mental health.
  • Instead of moralizing and complaining about the working single mother who gets $76 a month per kid to feed them, it means opening your wallet and giving her $24 more so she has $100 – and maybe ensuring she gets some health care and the right to birth control, too. (“If someone makes you walk with him one mile – walk with him two”).
  • Instead of donating to wealthy politicians (of either party) and filling church parking lots with signs and bumper stickers for the best candidate to create economic growth on the backs of the impoverished or at the expense of the earth – it means calling out the rich and being a voice for equality, dignity, and loving action on behalf of leaders and the community.
  • It means stop expecting other people to “deserve” things/love/respect – feed them anyway.

Let’s face it – we all love John the Baptist for calling out the powerful on hypocrisy in the streets and paying with his head – but how many of us are really willing to be him? Which leads me to:

 You are afraid to be Different

The bible tells us over and over that Christians are not supposed to be like the rest of the world. We are told to be “Strangers in a strange land” – “In the world but not of the world” – “Give Caesar his and Give God his.” But that isn’t how we see it in these days. Instead of living our beliefs even if they don’t fit the world – Christianity has decided to change to world to fit its beliefs. The fake “persecution complex” had gotten out of hand. A store saying “Happy Holidays” isn’t hurting you and the manager isn’t going to storm into your house and say “Kiss this Pagan Yule Log or you can’t have 30% off!” If other people in the world have “holidays” and you have Christmas – freaking have Christmas! Reason your season until your manger overflows with kneeling sheep and really clean shepherds. But don’t try to force the whole country to do it with you. Christianity was designed to be a city on a hill – a light – not a police force.

fight for fiath

That goes for marriage, school prayer and every other Christian trope currently trying to be legislated into law. Your kids can’t lead the math class in a prayer to Jesus? So what! Is school the only place your kid can pray? Give your kids a home filled with prayer, and a life filled with actions of goodness and heart. It’s not the job of schools to accommodate YOU. It’s your job to keep your faith even when others don’t. Jesus talked about praying in a closet – not at a chalkboard. There are places all over the world where Christians are murdered. That’s persecution. The inability to shop at Penny’s cause they ran an ad with a gay couple is not.

We weren’t designed to be a “Christian nation,” we aren’t one, and we aren’t going to be one. Christianity should be something you choose because you want to be a Christian, not because the majority population pressures you into it or makes it illegal for you to act in ways that “aren’t biblical” (like any two Christians can even agree on what that is).  Don’t try to make the world a nice place for your ideas. Keep them, walk them, and strive for them in a world where you may be different from others – because that is the point! (note: People in the Judeo part of the Judeo-Christian tradition have lived this way forever – and still they thrive.).

You are afraid of your own God.

If Pentecost were to happen in most Christian churches today, the Holy Spirit would have to try to time it between Upward Basketball and the taize worship service, get a permit from the Buildings and Grounds committee, and submit a plan for who would clean up the sanctuary when it was over. Church’s cling to order as a form of oxygen, instead of having a system that is strong enough to hold and flexible enough to withstand the spontaneity and creativity of a powerful God. Christianity is shackled by the ego, vision, budget, and polity of leaders and lay people rather than being freed by the willingness to follow what Jesus said.

You’re afraid God will let the church die. I won’t even start on the number of blogs and church seminars hysterical about the death, change, challenge of the modern church. Death is change. The church’s old model – huge buildings, full time pastoral staff who makes a living wage just from ministry, and programs, programs, programs simply isn’t working any more. Yet – with scholars in almost every denomination heralding this truth as the dawn of a new form of Christianity – lighter, relational, mobile and powerful in action and message – the mainline church is still functioning with 16 committees (for a 200 active member congregation) and claiming to be on the fringe because of that coffee shop/bar/mall/bookstore worship it now offers. Here’s the thing: Holding the same old bible study with the same old ideas in Starbucks isn’t innovation – it’s relocation.

starbucks

The “wrath of God” has become a frequent Christian chorus. Gay marriage? “Let us pray this country doesn’t suffer the wrath of God.” Tornado? “God is letting us know God is unhappy with..,” Some Hobby Lobby worker needs birth control to regulate her hormones, “That will make God unhappy.” This “fear of the Lord” has nothing to do with the respect the Bible commands. I have respect for a lot of people, but I’m not afraid they will slap me with a plague, tornado or fire roasted chili just for doing something uniquely human. I am starting to think forgiveness plays such a key role in Christianity because there’s so much fear of God that we have to keep being assured we’re not heading for a smack-down. The belief in dualism – that we are somehow separate from God and require blood, prayer and methods to be acceptable or embraced is not something I can support.

A few years ago I left the Christian church and began a journey of meditation and study with a focus on rest, mental health, creativity and freedom from fear. I walked until I was in a field that expressed compassion, embraced life and death without fear, where mistakes happen and it’s okay, where reality is the focus, and where those things the words of Jesus taught me were actually being put into personal practice – kindness, mourning, joy, generosity, effort and embracing the basic goodness in myself and others. When I heard my meditation teacher say, “Buddhism is the path of being human.” I knew the name of the road I was on.

This wasn’t easy. It can be hard, and sometimes heartbreaking, to strip off long-held ideas and habits. I have grieved certain changes, and celebrated much baggage released. I cherish the friends I’ve made, the memories I’ve decided to keep, and the things I learned.

There is a story in the bible of the Magi who find the baby Jesus and are supposed to go tell Herod where he is. Realizing that funny thing they smelled on Herod was the stench of his fear, they were warned in a dream to go home by another way.   That’s what I’m doing. So pray for me, and I will send my love to you. Let’s be different, together.


Season of Wonder, Star of Light

It is a lazy, rainy December 24th here in my Virginia woods. My Jewish friends are lighting the last light of Hanukkah tonight, and my Christian pals are planning to read the story of Jesus, a baby in a manger who is the reason for their celebration. Buddhist mentors are meditating the gratitude of this day, like every day, and atheists are eagerly anticipating family, friends, presents, candy and laughs. Even those grouchy folks who mutter “I hate Christmas” are starting to soften a bit. By this time of the year we’ve figured out that we are not as different as we are the same in mid-winter – we all celebrate the light.

light

Well, maybe not cats.

The message in this season – whatever season it may be – is one of definite clarity. In the midst of darkness light still shines. The miraculous light in the temple, the light of the Christ, the lightness of being or the light of loved ones. Light shines. This year I know of no better message for all of us.

For my two dear friends who each lost a spouse to death this year – the light of their love is still with you.

For my friends who grieve loved ones long lost who still haunt and call their name – the light of your love is still with them.

For artists and writers looking for doors to open, work to do, people to reach – the light inspiration beckons you to keep going.

For prisoners and captives, slaves and sufferers who are chained to dark situations – we remember you; we are seeking ways to free you – in body or in mind. Keep hope. Keep light. It’s shining. I promise.

For happy people who embrace their blessings and love their lives – you are the beneficiary and also a source. Keep sharing the light.

For New York, Ferguson, Florida, Wisconsin and every place struggling with injustice, malice, racism, anger and loss – there IS light  – we must work together, we must find it – because it’s there, and we all need it.

For a world ravaged with hunger and disease, violence that dares to call itself “religion”, economic fear, and military presence – There are people in every one of those places who have the potential to be helpers, healers, and hopeful carriers of light. Let’s support them; let’s empower them. Let’s rekindle their light.

For a world filled with the most wonderful things, scientific discovery, amazing cuisine, beautiful lands, lovers, poets, dreamers and children – shine, shine, shine, shine. We call on you to shine.

This spring we will experience another group of celebrations all competing in the same space – Passover, Easter, Spring Rebirth, Ohigan (a Buddhist ceremony celebrating the spirits of the dead reaching Nirvana), and Bahai New Year – and they all have one message too.  The death angel passing over, the resurrection of Christ, the rebirth of the earth, spirits receiving bliss or a new start – it all tells us – “Death is NOT an end.”

But that is for another time – for now – let us look to the light.

light2


The Tyranny of Calendar Man: 3 Tips to Happiness at Holidays

One of the lesser known villains in the DC Comic Universe is Calendar Man. Traditionally a Batman villain, he was created in 1958 (Detective Comics #289) by Batman co-creator Bill Finger.  His traditional costume is a garish red and white suit with calendar dates as shoulder pads. In later incarnations he is shown as a bald man with the months of the year tattooed on his head.

His thing? Committing crimes based on the holidays or special days on a calendar. His name? Julian Day.  He’s not a well-known nemesis of the Bat Family because his crimes all happen around holidays so it’s easy to figure him out, and he doesn’t really have any super powers or connections so Batman puts him away pretty quickly. Besides – look at him!

I'd like to see Christopher Nolan handle this guy!

I’d like to see Christopher Nolan handle this guy!

The moral of sad Calendar Man’s story is always the same – when you are trapped by the calendar and expectations of certain holidays, there’s little room for anything but misfortune. That’s as true for us as it is for Gotham.

Holidays are supposed to be a time for fun, remembrance, celebrating, spirit and food (oh, the food). But every year as social media shares our season of discontent with everyone around us, holidays are becoming big sloppy slices of complaining topped with judgment.

  • Christmas music before Thanksgiving? WRONG! Stores are greedy!
  • Retail stores opening on Thanksgiving day? CRISIS! American family is falling apart!
  • People choosing to shop on Thanksgiving or wait for Black Friday! MATERIALISTS! Putting a flat screen TV ahead of their family!
  • People saying Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas? HEATHEN ATHEIST WAR-MONGERS! There is a war on Christmas and these people take it away from JESUS!

I’ve seen so many posts about Target and Kmart being open on Thanksgiving I’m thinking of building a bomb shelter because it clearly must be one of the horses of the apocalypse. While everyone is moaning and gnashing their cranberry-stained teeth, the innocence, fun and fellowship we are supposed to be feeling disappears before our very eyes. All because – like Calendar Man – we are addicted to a date on a page.  Here’s my 3 tips to enjoy this time of year without the drama.

  1. BE HERE NOW

In meditation and mindfulness we are taught to focus on the now. We are encouraged to learn from and let go of the past, and move toward but not expect the future. We don’t measure our heart on the calendar – a man-made time-line placed atop our lives like a waffle iron – we measure it in the moment – what we feel, who we love, how we move.

The truth is Thanksgiving is not the only day people have to eat, laugh and love with their family. You can (and should try to) experience that ANY day.

Cultivate thankfulness as a daily practice. Eat more meals around your dinner table or pick a day in the week to make a special meal with special food. If you have to work Thanksgiving day – no one is going to take your family away from you – find a time when you are off and tell them how thankful you are.  We don’t need Thanksgiving to feel gratitude, we don’t need Christmas Day to give presents and tell people we love them, and we don’t need New Year’s to start over.

Free yourself from the calendar. Be in the now.

 2. STOP JUDGING

I mentioned on a facebook post that my wife is a nurse and she is working Thanksgiving and Friday so our Thanksgiving is Saturday. I said the point of the holiday is gratitude, not the worship of Thursday.  A few who worked in retail also wrote that they LIKED working the holiday because of time and a half, and the energy of goodwill in the stores.  What did I get back?

  1.  Doctors, nurses and police are ESSENTIAL. Target employees are not. We can live without Target for a day.
  2. Target doesn’t NEED to be open Thanksgiving. They are just greedy!
  3. People who go shopping put material things ahead of their family!

They seem like sound arguments – until you see them for the bucket of judgment they represent.

 It’s unfair to suggest what one person does is more essential or important than what someone else does.  I’m a writer. It’s at the top of the list of “non-essential careers” – but it means the world to me. Is a nurse worth more? Does a doctor’s work make mine meaningless? No. It makes it different.  Someone who works at Target may not be essential to you – but that salary, and the good work that person does at their job, is essential to them. Get off your high horse – airport workers, retail clerks, people who fix broken heaters are just as essential as doctors and EMTs – to someone.

Retail runs this country. YOU might not think Target needs to be open Thanksgiving, but the accountant for Target might. They call is “black Friday” because it helps retail stores move from Red (financial loss) to Black (profit) for the year.  Maybe it’s more important than you think. Maybe it isn’t. I don’t know. And, really, unless you are a retail accountant – neither do you.

Newsflash:  Not everyone has a family. Or a nice family. Or thinks spending all afternoon eating is the best way to be with their family. Or can make memories laughing while shopping instead of silently sitting in front of the Cowboys football game.  Truth is, not every family looks like this:

thanksgiving-family-dinner

Sometimes they look like this:

fighting

So getting out of the house and doing a little shopping or going to a movie until things cool down might just be the better option. When you assume the reason everyone shops is materialism – then it is likely YOU who is the materialist.

 3. BE A GOOD GUEST

Let’s face it. As living beings –we are all guests on this planet. We don’t own the ocean, nature, sky or weather. We are all blessed to be guests on our mother Earth’s surface. So as we get into December – a place where a lot of religions, people, and ideas are all trying to experience joy, birth, goodness, and light in the midst of winter – let people do what they do without correction or criticism.

If you were a guest at a party, and you saw some people eating the meat out of soup with chopsticks – would you walk over and say, “You people are WRONG! Beef stew is eaten with a spoon! YOU HATE SILVERWARE!”?   No – probably not.  You might say, “wow, that’s different from how I do it,” then pick up your spoon and eat.

A Christmas gift called "compromise"

A Christmas gift called “compromise”

So – since we are all guests at December’s spiritual party – some people are going to say Merry Christmas, and some people are going to say Happy Hanukah, and some people are going to talk about Kwanza, and others are going to talk about “Happy Holidays.”  Get over that. Say what you say and let people say what they say.

Jesus might be the reason for YOUR season, but other people have other reasons and celebrate other seasons. Accept a happy greeting in the spirit it’s given, and move along. Every time you complain about this kind of stuff at Christmas an angel sets its wings on fire.

What was Calendar Man’s ultimate capture?  In the mini-series Dark Victory, Calendar Man tries to capture another villain called “Holiday” who is stealing his thunder by killing on holidays. What happens to him? Holiday’s sister catches Calendar Man and nearly beats him to death, leaving his tied up body for Batman to find. Holiday territoriality is clearly a bad idea.

Don’t be trapped by the lines on a page or the fantasy about “how it is supposed to be.” Be in your present. Be in the now. Just be, and let the world be too.


The 10 Best Gifts for Writers (and three worst)

As a commissioned novelist who averages 10 – 15,000 words a week – and the staff writer for a publishing company – I was asked to come up with a list of the best Christmas gifts for writers.  I also threw in the three worst – in the interest of my fellow word herders out there.  And remember, the most important gift you can give anyone  at any time  – is love.

The Ten Best Gifts for Writers

Coffee – (Or Tea) – Most writers either need to wake up or stay up. Some specialty coffee (or tea) is always well appreciated.

Gym Membership or Free Pass – Writing is a solitary, sit-down-all-the-time existence. Something that gives writers a chance to get up, be around people and move is a good thing. Exercise is also a great way to get ideas and defeat writer’s block.

Massage Gift Certificate – If your writer doesn’t like working out, loosen up his/her muscles with a nice massage. Relaxation encourages creativity and productivity.

Autographed Books – All writers have writers who inspire them. Give an autographed book to connect your writer to the community of authors. Or, give a gift subscription to Tattered Cover Book Store’s “Autograph Book Club” which sends out a signed book each month.

Staples Gift Card (or any office supply store) – Writers love office supplies. Highlighters, tape, cool labels, index cards – you name it we want it.

Pandora One Subscription – A great way to get into a character’s head is listen to the music that character likes. But, who wants to spend money on music you hate just because you’re writing dialogue for a teenage Goth or an eighty year old big-band fan? Pandora (without commercials and no time limit) can let you design a station for every character.

Cork Board or Dry Erase Board – with pins – Cork boards make great story boards to put up pictures of characters, plot outlines, or descriptions. Dry erase boards let writers dump all their ideas, character names and weird things to remember in one erasable place.

Dyna-Flex Gyro – We might not be surgeons or pool sharks, but – writers need their hands. We type A LOT.  Keep your writer carpal tunnel syndrome free with a Dyna Flex.  It is a plastic ball with a rotor inside and spins at G Force.  A 3 times a day Dyna Flex (2 mins per hand) will keep the doctor away.

Noise Cancelling Headphones – You don’t realize how loud common household stuff is until you try to concentrate. The cat snores, the office lights buzz, the person beside you won’t shut up. Give your writer the ultimate gift – white noise or the ability to control their sound environment via music so they can concentrate.

Specialty Dice – head to any game or comic shop and pick up a couple 20 sided, 8 sided, 6 sided dice and put them together in a set for your writer.  Dice are amazingly helpful. You’re writing, you need an address for the killer to go to – if you stop to think too hard about it you’re going to break the flow and the muse will get all cranky and leave again. So – grab the dice on your desk and toss a couple. BAM! 1482 Applewood Street.  Or the guy is in hotel room (3 Dice Roll) 624.

THREE THINGS YOU SHOULD NEVER GIVE WRITERS:

Fancy Pens – They are beautiful, functional and personal. But – writers really don’t use pens that often except for jotting notes (and most of use our phones for that).

Blank Notebooks – It doesn’t matter if they are fancy or plain, lined or open. Don’t do it. First, writers get tons of these and second, the last thing a writer needs is MORE BLANK PAPER STARING AT YOU!

DVD’s of TV Shows – So, you know your writing friends would love Boardwalk Empire. But they keep blowing off the suggestion (cause they are busy writing and don’t have time for TV) – Do NOT buy them the Box Set. Writers have to shut out other media for time and creativity (It’s hard to write your story when you are watching other stories) – Don’t force it into their life. Let them decide IF and WHEN they have time for a new story in their world.

10 gifts for writers


Christmas from Advent to Zen

Christmas from Advent to Zen

Santa MeditatingGrowing up in a family that didn’t’t go to church or celebrate Christianity in any overt fashion (“There is a God, but that’s not really for us” was my mother’s view), Christmas meant one word:  books.   Well, I suppose when I was very small it also meant Santa – but mostly by the time I was able to plop down in a chair and start reading – Santa was just a means to an end – books.  In fact, even now there is a book under the tree with my name on it every year.  When I was seventeen I went to church with a friend, walked the aisle, and “asked Jesus into my heart” which made me a new creation and brought about a new winter focus:  Advent.

Advent is the season of expectation. Traditionally it is the four weeks before Christmas where we anticipate and imagine the gifts the Christ child will bring us. The weeks are marked by candles and set up to reflect the beauty the holiday celebrates:

Hopeadventwreath
Peace
Joy
Love

Advent is what we focus on while we attempt to ignore the hardcore shopping (“I will cut you for that Leap Frog Tablet!”), wild partying (“Open bar at the office today!”), and general outrage (“Your ad says “Holidays” not “Christmas” – I’m never shopping here again after I buy these things and get my discount!”) of the season.  When I am tired of the hustle, bustle, dining or whining – I light a purple candle and call it a star-filled night – when love come into our world wrapped in swaddling clothes and laying in a manger.

I love Advent but I have also gained sanity and balance by ridding myself of its main component – expectation.  For the most part, our culture has transformed expectation from being a holy waiting filled with gratitude to a laundry list of requirements that must be met.  Ancients regarded unmet expectations as a sign or a challenge. Modern families regard them as disappointment – always to be avoided.

We are fed expectation (along with a diet of competition, conformity, and confusion) in every corner of our life. Goal directed behavior is our drug of choice, and “meets (or exceeds) expectations” is the Holy Grail. Church leaders buy books, attend seminars and gnash their teeth at meetings attempting to define and evaluate the congregation’s expectations for growth, leadership, social impact and whether there is enough church buy-in to go for that new hymnal. We have raised up a model and voted that the surprising, not-what-you-expect, catch-me-if-you-can Holy Spirit must work within it.  Expectation has made us fat on promises, and thin on perseverance. It is time for it to go.

But, how can I have Advent without expectation?  First by realizing the three wise magi probably started life looking like this:

Three Wise Men
My Christian heart, cultivated in the west is buoyed each day by my Zen practice – founded in the east. In meditation we are taught to let go of expectation and embrace acceptance. It is what it is. It will be what it will be. And, we accept it as its nature without judgment. A life without judging one another – sounds kinda like something I heard about once, from a guy – on a hill – found by these three wise folks after he became more than expectation.

The magi were following a star. Looking for a king. Did you see the gifts they brought? No rattles, no cool crib mobiles, and no booties.  I’m pretty sure a teen couple in a barn with a baby was NOT what they expected. It was what they accepted. No one threw up a magi hand, stomped back to his camel or shouted at the star, “A baby?  Really?  REALLY?!”
They gave.
They knelt.
They worshipped.
They accepted something they never expected.

So this Advent – I will not expect. I will accept.

I will accept Peace – the gift of perspective, forgiveness and rest.
I will accept Hope – the gift of a future, assurance, and trust.
I will accept Joy – laughter and cookies, giggles and jokes.
I will accept Love – all around me, within me, abundantly.

And I will accept that the Holy Spirit whom I have never been able to catch will do something unexpected – and leave a baby unto us – and his name shall be called …“Wonderful.”

(And, if there is a book under the tree with my name on it – I’ll accept that too.)