Perhaps You-Too have discovered You-Tube? There you can learn that Jesus didn't really die on the cross but escaped to either India (Kashmir to be exact) or, to the south of France (with Mary Magdeline, of course). You might be surprised to know that an exact reckoning determined that Jesus was born on March 2, 4 B.C. (They forgot to calculate the time?) Like the Never Ending Story of science (which blows our minds every few years or decades), who knows: maybe they are right!
But what novelists, speculators, con men, scoffers or archaeologists will never change is the fact that Jesus Christ changed world history. His message and example conquered the Roman Empire (which crucified him), and in the process changed western history (and by extension, world history). More importantly, given that such “conquest” proved a mix bag to say the least, he “conquered” the hearts of countless souls down through the centuries. Witnesses to his life and thousands of others who only heard about him have given their lives willingly and joyfully to bear witness to their faith.
Never mind that atrocities have been committed in his name or that countless followers are glued to their unyielding and untested beliefs, for ignorance and ego can be found everywhere, and not just in religion and spirituality. Never mind the “miracles” described in the life of Jesus, though are not the discoveries of modern science every bit a miraculous to us even today? Just because we use technology doesn’t mean we have a clue about how it works! Imagine a time traveler from, say, just two hundred years ago coming to Seattle. Has not science so opened our imaginations that we can imagine “raising” the dead? Why just consider the testimony of near-death experiencers!
Truth is more vital than facts. Truth changes lives. Facts soon get lost. Eyewitness accounts demonstrate the unreliability of our five senses! In contrast to mere facts, what about the miracle of forgiveness? The miracle of returning love for hatred? I think of Gandhi or Martin Luther King. What about helping a neighbor in need?
The spirit of Christmas is the simple, but life changing, recognition of our shared humanity. That tiny babe in a manger so long ago is but a symbol, for what new-born is unlovable? No matter what your beliefs about that tiny babe, the reminder and the affirmation that love can be (re)born even in spite of those who would seek to destroy it, is a truth that we resonate with on a deeper level than ego. That both common “shepherds” (i.e. ordinary people) and “kings from afar” would both come to a humble manger to bow down to this truth is a symbol more powerful than any platitude eloquently expressed.
Who among us who frequent East West Bookshop would fail to welcome society’s celebration and reminder of our shared humanity? Especially now in these times where “getting mine first” is elevated by some in roles of leadership to a way of life, a veritable religion. Yes, like all things, Christmas can be materialistically milked for money or mere feasting. But this “greatest story ever told” (why the greatest? Because it’s your story and mine, too), is a truth worthy of celebrating.
How should we celebrate Christmas? With gift giving, Christmas decorations, and feasting? All of those have their place for many. Who doesn’t enjoy and appreciate those neighborhoods who ban together to put on an exuberant show of beautiful Christmas lights? Have you ever gone to see the entrancing annual Bellevue Botanical “Garden d’Lights?” Did you know that the very first time a nativity scene (a live one, by the way) was created was by St. Francis in Italy in 1223?
All outward celebrations aside, East West staffers participate in a tradition begun by Paramhansa Yogananda, author of the now famous book, “Autobiography of a Yogi. That tradition is to set aside a day of meditation on the “formless Christ”. Yogananda taught that the “second coming of Christ” is an event that takes place in the human heart. By “formless Christ” he meant the universal divine consciousness, intelligent and wise, that resides in every person (regardless of belief) and, indeed, in every atom of creation. This divine Self, he taught, is the invisible intelligence and the pure and noble impulses that have their source in the Creator and Sustainer of all life.
(Saturday, December 22, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., we welcome all to the annual Christmas meditation at the Blue Lotus Temple in Bothell.)
“Jesus” was the man’s name but “Christ” was the title bestowed upon him. “Christ” signifies that he had achieved realization of his innate divine nature: a nature we all possess but few have sought it and fewer still have yet to “become One with the Father.” To do so, however, is the purpose for which we were created. It is our destiny to achieve this oneness, but it is only by the free choice of our hearts that we begin the journey “home” to claim our royal birthright just as in the beautiful story of the Prodigal Son. (You might find it interesting to know that the title of “Christ” is etymologically connected with the word “Krishna” and carries the same significance.)
Let us, then, honor the tiny babe in a manger for that shining face is our face when we love all without condition. Let the purity of newborn love be nurtured in our hearts during this holy season and in everyday of our life. Love is the redeeming power of the universe and it never fails to resurface no matter how dark the days may get.
Happy Christmas to all!
Nayaswami Hriman McGilloway is the spiritual director of Ananda Seattle and a longtime friend of East West Bookshop.