The Holidays are Only Holy If We Make Them So
Consider something new and miraculous.
The year 2021 is now drawing to a close. Thanksgiving is past, Hannukah is here and Christmas approaches. Some of us religiously and all of us psychologically can sense the advent of new beginnings.
Our choice is whether to mindlessly or mindfully celebrate the holidays. Popular culture assaults us with its garish and consumerist approach to the holidays, but externalities such as that cannot penetrate the heart. The holidays only become holy days if we spiritually rise up to meet them. And then they are much, much more than just days on the calendar; they carry the power to change our lives.
Both Hannukah and Christmas are a festival of light, celebrations of God’s power to transcend the darkness of the world. Now think about that for a minute before reading on. Think environmental degradation; think Covid; think endless war machine; think economic inequality. Then consider again what it means that God has the power to transcend the darkness of the world. For those things are the darkness of the world. “Long lay the world in sin and error pining” applies as much to humanity’s condition today as it did two thousand years ago.
Hannukah is a reminder that at a time of great peril God overcame the laws of time and space as we know them, candles burning for eight days and nights and delivering the Jews to safety. Christmas is a similar reminder of transcendence, God descending into the soul of humanity and saving us from our internal darkness. The two are remarkably similar revelations that the darkness of the world is superseded by the light of God. That is the miracle of both.
Religious holidays do not just apply to what happened thousands of years ago to people who lived in ages past. Rather, they point to eternal truths that are as true for us today as they were then. They apply not only to the things that change, but to the things that do not change. They apply not only to the conditions of the world, but to the condition of humanity’s soul. And most importantly, they’re not just fairy tales. They are coded messages about the way things really work.
There are objective, discernible laws that prevail within the internal world just as there are objective, discernible laws of external phenomena. Understanding gravity isn’t a matter of opinion. And neither is understanding spiritual law. If there is a God, and if the power of God carries the miraculous power to change things in the mortal world, then whether or not we believe that is sort of irrelevant.
In A Course in Miracles, “light” is defined as “understanding.” Why is earth’s environment in peril? Because people have not understood their moral responsibility to protect it. Why is our democracy in peril? Because people have not understood their responsibility as citizens to put values of democracy over the values of the marketplace. And why is the pandemic still raging? Because people have not understood their responsibility to themselves and others to behave in ways that would have gotten it under control much earlier. All the problems of the world have emanated from something that went awry within us. Our failure to understand who we are, why we are here, and our moral responsibility to people and planet is the source of every problem in the world.
The meaning of the holidays is that they correct our problems at their roots. If you view Hannukah and Christmas only in terms of outer realities - from candles and fairy lights, to presents we have to buy, to who goes where and eats dinner with whom - then that is what they will mean to us. And in that case, we’re lucky if we can stave off the stress and anxiety that accompany such externalities. The internals of the holidays are sacred, but the externals are anything but.
If you choose to go deeper - to eschew the materialistic maya that does more to obscure than to reveal the spiritual truths of the holiday season - then doors open that really do change the world. They change the world because they change us. By reminding us that miracles are possible, and that something miraculous exists within us, they change our attitudes, our energy, our sense of possibility, and our faith in ourselves. They represent a complete transformation of who we think we are, and of our relationship to the world.
The portal from a world of darkness to a world of light does not exist in the material world but in our psyches. The salvation of the world will not derive from accumulated data but from expanded hearts. Something is going to change inside us, and that will change the world.
I know how depressed many people feel right now, and given the state of the world right now their sadness is understandable. But there is a thought system that lies beyond our own, a set of possibilities that lie beyond what the rational mind can see, and an infinite power that is available where love is present. The search for the miraculous is not magical thinking; if anything, it is the end to our magical thinking. Magical thinking is thinking we can endlessly behave without love toward people or planet and not suffer the consequences. Magical thinking is thinking our democracy or even life itself is guaranteed if we do not take care of them. Miraculous thinking is knowing it’s both our responsibility and our power to change that. Magical thinking is the stuff of psychological immaturity; miraculous thinking is the evolution of our consciousness to a fuller realization of what’s possible.
May our holidays this year be holy days, days of revelation and understanding and inspiration and love. It is there that hope lies. Grey clouds have gathered in the world, but in the inner sky there are no clouds. The outer world is darkened, but in the inner world there is only light. The light of God dispels the darkness of the world. It is a light that is ours to claim.