So this is Christmas…

Empathy slaps me silly sometimes, and the “joy of Christmas” can be elusive when you see any fraction of the real pain and suffering in the world. In Buddhism, “suffering” is a technical term that has meanings so deep that words don’t suffice, but the fact is that many people are disrupted and disappointed in ways that scale from trivial to tragic. In this solstice celebration with its Christian religious and spiritual resonance, we try to be festive, to celebrate the life of someone who would have been bemused if not horrified by the material orgy produced in his name, now so vital a part of our economic life that we couldn’t lose it, even if we wanted to.

My paternal grandmother died on Christmas Eve when my father was ten years old. He revealed this to me when I was around the same age, and I realized from then on that Christmas had a far different sense for him than it had for me. Each year at Christmas he was reminded of death, loss, sadness.

I’m aware of many trails of sadness through this year’s holiday season, disconnections and deaths, as well as ordinary frailties and broken promises. In fact the whole world seems to be trembling at the moment, and our future is a blur. Celebration, like nirvana, seems almost selfish at the moment; the bodhisattva path makes more sense. I will celebrate this year as ever, and appreciate those close to me, but I will also find time to mourn the many losses and disappointments, and the divisions that have emerged in my life and others.

I do hope you have a Merry Christmas, forget for a moment the difficult realities that confront us and surround us, take the day to focus on love and fellowship. Subvert the darkness.

O you, happy roots,
with whom works of miracles
and not works of crime,
for burning predestined you were planted.

And to you, thoughtful fiery voice,
becoming the whetstone,
subverting the darkness.
Rejoice in that which is on top.

Rejoice in him,
who the many did not see on earth,
although they ardently cried for.
Rejoice in that which is on top.

~ Hildegarde von Bingen, translation by Rupert Chappelle

So this is Christmas
And what have you done
Another year over
And a new one just begun
And so this is Christmas
I hope you have fun
The near and the dear ones
The old and the young

~ John Lennon