Christmas is always a challenging time for me. Over the years I have shifted out of the old family patterns of dysfunction and instability that I grew up with and have found my own traditions around Christmas. However, my main difficulty now with the season is a spiritual one: How do I fit in with this thing called Christmas?
For years, I have gone to Christian churches, but I do not consider myself a Christian, by the usual defining standards of declaring Jesus to “be my lord and savior” and believing that he “died for my sins.” I just don’t buy this and never have. I honor and respect that these are sacred truths for others, but it’s simply not my truth. I consider Jesus to be an awakened master, an enlightened teacher, my yogi brother, who was as fully human and divine as you and me and everyone and everything else. For me, like many masters who have walked this earth, he represents what we, too, can be if we choose to identify with and live from the center of our most powerful truth: We are The Divine, being Itself as us. The way that I understand being in this mystery of embodiment in this cross section of space and time, is that there is God only, infinitely expressed as everything. There is nothing else. The goal for me as a human, a yogi, a teacher, a mother, a partner, a friend – is to reside in this truth and ripple it outward in all that I do and in all that I am.
I’ve attended many different types of churches over the years, and it’s been important to me to be able to change words so that I stay connected in underlying meaning and don’t get caught up in differences in semantics. For example, I inwardly substitute words like “the devil” for words that make sense to me, like “separation mindstate.” I don’t believe in “sin,” especially original sin, but instead can instead easily understand “forgetfulness” and being born into this world with a tendency to forget who we are, which extends into hurtful actions, to others and ourselves.
But when Christmas rolls around, it’s a little harder. For me, the birth story of Jesus is a myth, a metaphor. I don’t believe in the virgin birth as a literal fact, I don’t think Dec 25 is likely Jesus’ actual birthday, and I’m pretty sure Jesus didn’t have blond hair, blue eyes, and white skin. This story has never been about “Happy Birthdays, Jesus” for me. Rather, I see the elements of the story more as a teaching parable; something to help us go deeper into a truth that lies within ourselves. This is hard for me because this story is mostly presented as stone cold fact and that, somehow, I should be believing it as such. I often feel like a spiritual fish out of water most of the time, but at Christmas, this feeling of “I don’t belong” is heightened. Usually the emotional effects of that for me are quite strong: isolation, depression, and an overall sense of never quite fitting in. Not only is all of this difficult, but if I take my seasonal cues from nature, as I do, Winter Solstice calls us to slow down, pare down, simplify, and be still. Far different from what society is calling us to do at Christmas time.
This year is different for me for two reasons. The first is that I have almost completely let go of what society says I should be doing and am, instead, letting nature fully lead me. I am spending most of my time in contemplation, in quiet, and am sitting or walking in nature as much as I can. When I have to go into a store, I go on an off day or early in the morning, when it will be quietest. I’m spending very little time on social media, which cuts my habitual pattern of comparison to almost zero. Facebook is off my phone and I don’t have Messenger installed on my phone, so everything is desktop only. I pop into Facebook for a quick check of notifications or messages, then I log out. I declined an invitation to a Christmas party because I knew it would be too much for me – too loud, too many people. I’m not watching any violent or agitating tv shows or movies and, since Thanksgiving, I’ve been working on jigsaw puzzles. It’s so nice.
Reason number two: Richard Rohr. I’ve been listening to Richard’s podcast and reading his books for a while. He is a contemplative, modern day mystic (which I identify with) who comes to know God through direct, personal experience. His YouTube videos are excellent. He talks about the Universal Christ, which is very meaningful and resonant for me. He teaches that Christ is not Jesus’ last name, but rather a word that describes the place where Spirit and matter meet. In other words, Christ is the visible, tangible place where God is expressing and manifesting God’s self. Therefore, Christ, is the fundamental center and truth of all things, of everyone, everywhere. This also happens to be what Yoga is about; the very same truth I teach and endeavor to live everyday.
I am so incredibly grateful to have stumbled upon Richard’s video on Christmas a couple of weeks ago. Instead of my usual depressive feelings of being a spiritual outcast starting to creep in, for the first time ever, I feel a total inclusivity with no need to change any words to connect with the meaning of the season. He describes Christmas as the celebration of the Christ – God incarnate over and over and over again, as a constant act of immaculate conception and miraculous birth of The Divine as everything, as you and me. This didn’t happen just with the birth of Jesus, but rather started with the Big Bang, when God decided to become manifest. Therefore, according to Richard, Christmas is the celebration of the ever-unfolding Incarnation. Now that I can get on board with! With this perspective I can even stand in agreement with the virgin birth. For me, it’s a metaphor for all incarnation, not just one person’s incarnation. God only is the creator. Nothing else is required because nothing else exists. And, according to Richard, the season is about making room in the inn of our hearts to welcome the recognition, the “come and see” of The Divine in ourselves and in all things, right there where we least expect to find it – in the humble simplicity and quiet wonder of a barn on a silent night.
As I write, this is the first day after solstice, the birth of the new light. No matter how dark it gets, the light always comes. Each day, the light increases, getting brighter and brighter. I invite us to take our cue from nature, from stories, from our insights and let our light shine fully as we go into 2020 together, recognizing that very same light in all things and all people. Wishing you peace, joy, and a newfound sense of wonder this Christmas. May the new year fill you with hope and expectation of good things to come.