The Heart of Christmas

The advantage of making a What If post in which you say your final words just in case you croak is that you never have to do it again unless there’s a revision you’re just dying to make.  ‘Scuse the pun.

With that task done (see previous post if you’re new here), it’s time now for an uplifting Christmas message!

As many of you know, at this time last year I was living in a remote area of northern India at the foothills of the Himalayas.

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The nearest village was accessible in twenty minutes by way of narrow stone and dirt paths and leaps across six rocks in a creek.  It was a small, traditional Hindu, Muslim and Sikh community into which many Tibetan refugees and Buddhist monks and nuns had integrated.  Everywhere you looked, varying brands of faith were advertised in the clothes people wore, what they did or did not put on their heads, and how they greeted you.

While there were no practicing Christians in sight, it was not at all unusual for this blended community to embrace the spirit of Christ.  Jesus was, after all, considered a Buddha, a prophet and/or a divine being by many in these other religions.  So it should not have come as a surprise that I saw this notice posted outside a local shop just a few days before Christmas:

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But this was, in fact, quite a surprise, for beneath the veil of spiritual harmony in this village, there were plenty of tensions constantly brewing.

For more than 50 years, India has been host to high profile exiles like the Dalai Lama and other Buddhist teachers, and every year thousands of new Tibetan refugees find their way into communities near their beloved leaders.  In the village, it was clear that many Indians alternated between being gracious and blatantly resentful hosts to these Tibetans, and many Tibetans alternated between being grateful and blatantly mistrusting of the Indians.

The wariness of both sides was easily visible to me, and I found this troubling.  From a distance I assumed their spiritual devotion implied a constant dedication to kindness and compassion, but up close I often saw them behave contradictorily to these very ideals in particular.  Without tending to this troubling feeling, I let it casually wall off my heart so that I mindlessly discounted the spiritual sincerity of both the Indians and the Tibetans.

So I paused when I saw this sign.  At first I thought it was fantastic, that’s why I took a picture of it.  But then I began to think…wait.  Was it genuine or was it gratuitous?  Was it meant to keep the peace or keep the pretense?

As I walked home, I considered this issue in the manner requisite of any good spiritualist: First, I wondered the hell was wrong with the world.  Then I wondered what the hell was wrong with me.  I had taken a perfectly lovely gesture and promptly allowed my mind to make it suspect.

Wasn’t Christmas precisely the time when people with differences should come together?  Wasn’t the whole point of Christmas that we celebrate in honor of one who sought to unite us through love and peace?

And wasn’t I being just as lax in my own devotion to kindness and compassion as those by whom I was troubled?

Ahhh, there was the path I was looking for – out of the drama of my head and into the honesty of my heart.  Unconditional love and understanding were much easier to find in that light.

And so it was that last Christmas a village of Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs helped lead me back to the spirit of Christ I held so dear.  I had wandered away from it in my expectations of how Christ-like others were supposed to be, and that’s just how Christians have been ostracizing people for years – including me.  Because I wanted no part in knowingly ostracizing anyone, I promptly committed to staying centered in my heart every time I walked back into the village from that day forth.

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This Christmas I am again firmly centered in my heart, and it is from that place that I send out prayers of love and blessings to family and friends of all faiths in all corners of the world.  May the light of peace and goodwill shine brightly in your own hearts as you gather with loved ones and those in your own communities throughout this holiday season.  I love you.

 

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