A night of reflection

There’s a story that leads me to this place, but it’s a story for another day. So I leap into this particular story with little preamble, and I begin here:

At church tonight – my church, a church for which I have great affection – important words were said. Words that moved me with what, in my estimation, is the fundamental meaning of this season.

Our pastor, an amazing woman who seems to capture all that my atheist mind idealizes in a pastor, spoke of the Christmas of 1994. She wove a tale of this day, when she received from her parents a gift she’d desperately been hoping for. There was much she couldn’t remember about the holiday, but she remembered that gift, and another she received from a friend. These things stood out as important.

She then turned the question on the congregation.

Do you remember what you got for Christmas in 1994? How about 2004? 

No? 2014?

Chuckles and sidelong glances rippled through the congregation.

No. You probably don’t remember what presents you got.

But do you remember who loved you?

And there, in that sentence, is the meaning.

I don’t celebrate a deity. But I do have faith. I have faith in people and in the world around me. I have faith that kindness and compassion will reach those who need it most.

And I have faith in love.

The sermon, of course – and as always – continued on into the religious bits. To the believers, they’re the important part. They’re the cake. To me, those bits are the sprinkles. Because love – the kind of love that has the power to change the world – isn’t the domain of one people or religion or philosophy.

Everyone gets to have this. No exceptions.

And with that, on this Christmas eve, I leave a poem written by Howard Thurman.

The work of Christmas

When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.

– Howard Thurman (1985)


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