A CHRISTMAS REFLECTION
Teilhard de Chardin ( 1881-1955), a deceased Jesuit priest was a scientist, priest, anthropologist, and mystic. He spent most of his years ministering to the people of China. One time he was asked why so many good, sincere people did’t believe in God. In a very understanding way, he said he thought it was because they must not have heard about God in the right way.
Chardin thought that Christmas—the feast of the Incarnation—where God becomes a human person as an infant, was was the right way to learn about God. He thought this was so important for us because if we could understand this, then it would make God more attractive to us and then, we would want to follow his way more closely. For Chardin, Christmas manifests God’s infinite love for us that never changes. Always fresh and new. He never gets tired of us.
What a wonderful gift this is—God becoming human, like one of us. In recent years, there has been an ongoing theological discussion about the humanity of Jesus. How much did Jesus know about himself? When He was born did He know everything? Most theologians say probably not. Rather, as the Scriptures tell us, “He grew in wisdom and knowledge,” and “He was like us in all things but sin.” In other words, He grew into himself. He grew—like we do—into his understanding of what it meant to become more human. And, in this process, He was living out his divinity.
The process is the same for us. We too, like Jesus, are constantly growing into a better understanding of ourselves—of what it means to be human and in the process we are growing into becoming more like Jesus. And Chardin thought we were growing in our humanness every time we act like Jesus because, as he says in his book, The Divine Milieu, we can find Him everywhere—in everything. All creation is divine.
What might this mean for us this Christmas? Let me suggest three things. 1) Chardin thought that Christmas was so important because it shows us that in the infant Jesus, his love is always fresh, always new. God never gives up on us. He never gets tired of us. And even though we each have our own struggles and become tired at times, it is so encouraging to know that Jesus never tires of us even as we try to grow in our own humanness. As one writer says, we are all “unfinished symphonies,” or “a work in progress.” As the prayer of an elderly country gentleman says, “O Lord, I ain’t what I ought to be, and I ain’t what I’m gonna be, but, thanks be to You, I ain’t what I used to be.” 2) Just as Jesus grew in understanding himself by living his life in a certain way, so we too grow in our own humanness by the way we try to live based on his teachings. So, every time we are kind to someone, every time we are more loving, every time we are more patient, every time we share something of ourselves, every time we forgive or ask for forgiveness, every time we try to help someone in some way, every time we work for peace and justice, every time we try to console someone, etc., we are growing in our own humanity and becoming more like Jesus. 3) Chardin also thought that our world was divine—a divine milieu, and that Christmas—the feast of the Incarnation—was a reminder of this. All creation is divine. This can be difficult to see and remember with everything that goes on in our world. But just as Christmas reminds us that God never gets tired of each of us, that He never gives up on us, so it is also true that He never gives up on his own creation. And although we can become disheartened with the way things are in our world at times, his love for all creation is ever fresh and new. It encourages us to never give up on our world too.
Many of the Scripture readings of the Advent season leading up to Christmas are from the prophet Isaiah. In one place, he talks about this new creation that God is always trying to bring about. Listen to Isaiah’s words:
“then, the wolf shall be the guest of the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid;
the calf and the young lion shall browse together
with a little child to guide them.
The cow and the bear shall be neighbors,
together their young shall rest;
the lion shall eat hay like the ox.
The baby shall play by the cobra’s den. . . .
There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain,
for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the Lord.”
Perhaps during these days, we can thank the Lord for becoming one of us, renew our efforts to become more human, and rejoice that God never gives up on us or our world.
I would love to hear any thoughts you might have on what this Christmas means to you. Have a wonderful Christmas and a New Year filled with many blessings.
SOME THANKSGIVING DAY REFLECTIONS
Welcome to my blog! This is my first entry into writing about some ideas that have been important to me over the years. As a retired psychotherapist and university teacher, I have had the opportunity over the years of listening to the stories of many people about all sorts of topics. I would like to share some of these with you. My areas of interests in my teaching and writing has been the connection between psychology and spirituality. And so, generally speaking, my blogs will try to address these with you. Finally, I would certainly like to invite you to respond to my writing with your own ideas, so that we might help each other grow spiritually and psychologically.
“NOTHING TAKEN FOR GRANTED; EVERYTHING RECEIVED WITH GRATITUDE; EVERYTHING PASSED ON WITH GRACE”
One of our neighbors has a sticker on the back of their car that says choose to be grateful. As I pass by this car every day walking our dog, Sadie, it is a constant reminder to me of how important gratitude is in our lives. But gratitude can be difficult to cultivate. It’s not that we are ungrateful. I think most people want to be grateful. But how do we cultivate an “attitude of gratitude?” How do we develop a grateful heart, where we are not simply grateful for one thing or another, but find that our entire life is permeated with gratitude?
It’s interesting to see that gratitude was clearly important to Jesus. Remember the well known story of Jesus curing the ten lepers in chapter 17 of Luke’s Gospel? But only one comes back to thank Him. It seems as though we are not the only ones who struggle with gratitude. In some ways, it seems hard to believe that all the lepers who had been cured would not have come back to thank the Lord. In the time of Jesus, leprosy was such a dreaded disease with so many social implications. To not come back and say “thanks” is almost unthinkable! And you can almost hear the disappointment in the words of Jesus, “were not all ten made clean? The other nine, where are they?”
The well known English writer G.K. Chesterton once wrote: “Nothing taken for granted; everything received with gratitude; everything passed on with grace.” So, how can we receive everything with gratitude so that each of us can pass it on with grace in our own way? This is what I mean by cultivating a grateful heart.
It seems to me that growing in a life of gratitude and cultivating a grateful heart requires us to deepen our awareness of life. For most of us, this is not easy. It requires work. But the effort we put into this endeavor can bear tremendous fruit. There are numerous practical ways of doing this. One of the ways I have found helpful over the years is to suggest to people that they review the events of their day for fifteen minutes every evening, asking themselves three questions and writing down the answers to these questions in a journal. The three questions are: 1) what surprised me today? 2) What moved me or touched me today? 3) What inspired me today? Often, these are busy people, and I tell them that they do not need to write a great deal; the key thing is in reliving their day from a new perspective and not the amount that they write about it. Naturally, people have varying degrees of success with this process. But if they stay with it, I have seen it have a tremendous impact on a person’s life. It will deepen their awareness of life, and lead to cultivating a grateful heart where you begin to see everything as a gift.
Most of us lead far more meaningful lives than we know. Often, finding meaning and cultivating a grateful heart is not about doing things differently. It’s about seeing familiar things in new ways. It’s about changing our attitudes. When we find new eyes, the unsuspected blessing in our work that we have done for many years may take us completely by surprise. We will then find ourselves growing in a life of gratitude. We can see life in many ways: with our eyes, with our mind, with our intuition. But perhaps it is only those who have remembered how to see with the heart, that life is ever deeply known or served.
I hope that you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!!