Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Colors of Christmas

I am writing this in late November, roughly 30 days before winter officially begins on December 22, the winter solstice. Last night, my wife, Christine, and I had a bonfire, probably the last one of the year before it turns too cold, inviting friends over to roast hot dogs and marshmallows. In a way, it was really quite primitive, sitting around the fire, huddled against the chilly night, surrounded by evergreen trees, listening to the wind gusting through the trees. We were confident that, although it was getting darker and colder every day, there would be a spring, and in six months it would be lighter and warmer.

It did bring to mind, though, our ancient ancestors, the Neolithic farmers, sitting around fires thousands of years ago. For them, though, it was quite different, because they huddled in fear, having observed that the sun was sinking below the horizon much earlier each night and returning much later each morning. What if the sun no longer came up? They were afraid that the sun might disappear completely, leaving only the darkness and the permanent cold. Their fears increased as they neared the winter solstice. From vast experience and keen observation they knew of the movement of the sun across the sky, knowing that it would be much darker before it became lighter, but what if it stayed completely dark this time? Motivated by magical beliefs and superstition, they performed rituals to ensure that the sun would be reborn this time. Over the centuries, their rituals seemed to work because during the longest night and shortest day of the year, the sun did, indeed, stop its southerly journey and begin heading north. That is the meaning of the word solstice, from the Latin solstitium, sol meaning sun, and sistere, meaning “to stand still.” The days gradually became longer and the nights shorter for the next six months, until the summer solstice when the sun stood still, again, and then began its journey south.

Early man’s superstition triggered his rituals, encouraging the rebirth of the sun. Superstition shares the same Latin root as solstice, sistere, meaning “to stand,” in this case the prefix super means “to stand over.” Early man thought that perhaps his magical rituals would enable him to stand beyond, or over, the events, having a positive effect, encouraging the rebirth of the sun. Through the centuries these rituals became ceremonies involving the colors red and green, symbolizing the fertility of the earth. People gathered wreaths and holly with its red berries and evergreen boughs and ivy and mistletoe and built fires, and these practices were carried on in various forms by the Greeks and early Christians and Romans and Celts and other cultures throughout the world.

And now it is necessary to account, briefly, for the connection between the winter solstice and the birth of Jesus and Christmas celebrations. December 25 was set four hundred years after the birth of Jesus. Church Fathers, having no exact reference of Jesus’ birthday, borrowed a festival the Romans celebrated, called the Birth of the Unconquered Sun, declared to fall on December 25 by Emperor Aurelian in 270 AD. Our Neolithic ancestors would see the connection, having prayed that their sun conquer the night, again.

Today, although we have long forgotten the superstitious reasons for the colors, we have green and red candles and Christmas trees lights and bulbs and decorations and Yule logs and gifts wrapped in red and green paper and ribbons and bows and Christmas wreaths and holly and mistletoe and candy canes and Christmas cards and stockings, and we wear red and green sweaters and shirts and blouses and pants and skirts and scarves and earmuffs and mittens because these are the colors of rebirth.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

What I Know About Forgiveness, I Learned from Jesus

Yesterday, I read in the current issue of the AARP Bulletin a column entitled, "What I really know..." This brief article described an incident that occurred in a department store at Christmas time when a long line of children was waiting to see Santa, and a boy emerged from an elevator in a wheelchair pushed by his grandfather, and the children one by one offered to let the boy go in front of them in line. Apparently, this story has something to do with forgiveness, but what caught my eye at the end of the column was this:

YOUR TURN! Tell us what you really know about forgiveness in 400 words or less and submit it by e-mail to AARP.

This is what I submitted, coming in at 400 words.

What I know about forgiveness I learned from Jesus. He implored from the cross:

Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.
Luke 23: 34

He was referring to the people and the rulers and the soldiers, asking that they be forgiven because they were dreaming, living falsely in a world they made up, thinking they were bodies, punishing another body, not realizing that they were as God created them, children of God, their spirits created by God.

For a moment in His suffering, Jesus also forgot His heritage as God’s Son. That’s why He cried out:

My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?
Mark 15: 34

This cry was met with silence because God did not forsake him, knowing not of this world; Jesus forsook His true identity in His forgetting. This was simply a mistake, not a sin.

Yet, soon after, He remembered His true identity, saying:

Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.
Luke 23: 46

He is proclaiming that the will of God is now all He wants to follow, not His false will, not mine, but Thine.

Finally, after His resurrection, He says to His followers on the way to Emmaus that He fulfilled the prophecy by resurrecting:

Thus it is written and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day.
Luke 24: 46

True forgiveness is the recognition that you are as God created you, not as you dream yourself to be.

Today, Jesus is alive and well, giving us His unworldly masterpiece,
A Course in Miracles, dictating it over a seven-year period (1965-1972) to Helen Schucman, a psychologist at Columbia University. Believing in the reality of the body in the dream and forgetting your Source as the Son of God is simply a mistake, albeit a mistake with grave consequences, and recognizing this mistake is called forgiveness, as expressed in this passage from Jesus’ Course:

Father, I was mistaken in myself,
because I failed to realize the Source
from which I came. I have not left that Source

to enter in a body and to die.

My holiness remains a part of me,

as I am part of You. And my mistakes

about myself are dreams. I let them go

today. And I stand ready to receive

Your Word alone for what I really am.

A Course in Miracles, Lesson 228