Just before Christmas, I lost my youngest sister Gi Gi, to a sudden accident. She was in a coma for several weeks prior to her transition. As my sister hovered between life and death, I found myself in a deep state of grief and reflection. A reflection on birth, life, death, and the embracing of the great mystery. I choose to call the great mystery Love, or, better stated, Agape Love.
Searching for happiness and peace has to do with our connectedness to ourselves, those around us, and to our universe.
“Many of us feel disconnected by difficult times, longing for ways to awaken God’s love in ourselves and the world,” Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest, has written in his book The Universal Christ, “The reality we face is simple yet difficult—the healing of the world hinges upon honoring the inherent sacredness of the world and everyone in it.”
In the Judeo-Christian tradition, we often refer to “Our Father” when speaking of the cosmic, all-encompassing God. Because God is not really man or woman, referring to God as “he” or “she,” when taken out of context, can be controversial.
But if we were to view God as two sides of the same coin, rather than exclusively one or the other, it might be more helpful. I see God as both masculine and feminine, and the feminine, although more hidden perhaps, is the stronger of the two.
I believe what the world needs now is the Divine Wisdom (Feminine) to be made manifest within all of us.
With the passing of Thich Nhat Hanh, the Zen Buddhist monk and peace campaigner who brought mindfulness to the West, the world has lost another mentor. Every time we lose someone who helps us live and act in accordance with our highest good, it is a tremendous loss to the world. Martin Luther King. Nelson Mandela. Bishop Desmond Tutu. Thich Nhat Hanh. Orest Bedrij. Although they are no longer on this earthly plane, their inspiration lives on.
Mentors are very important to me. They inspire me to be better in every way. I celebrate their life, I praise their presence and spirit, and I integrate their teachings into the core of my being, so that I can become what God intended me to be.
“The glory of God is the communion of all things fully alive” ~ The Irenaeus’s axiom
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., an American Baptist minister, had a gift for capturing the hearts and minds of people with his homily-like discourses. His speeches—considered some of the most iconic of the 20th century— had a profound effect on the national consciousness.
In his book Strength to Love, published in 1963, King wrote: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
As individuals, we all have challenges in life. The question is, how will we respond?
During this Christmas season, as I meditate on the image of the innocent, vulnerable baby Jesus, I am reminded of the opportunity for spiritual renewal. I think most of us can relate on some level, even those who do not identify themselves as Christians. Perhaps it is simply the idea of birth and a chance to begin again that calls to us, that gives us hope as this year comes to a close and a New Year beckons.
At the surface there is really nothing glamorous about Christmas. Do you ever wonder what courage, trust and faith Mary and Joseph had? We have Joseph breaking the law, knowing what he should do with a seemingly “adulterous woman,” but he doesn’t divorce Mary as the Law clearly tells him to do, even though he has no direct way of knowing that the baby was conceived by the Holy Spirit [Matthew 1:18–24]. Think about the fact that they were homeless – born in a stable surrounded by unknown Shepherds and animals. What is the meaning of all this? And what does this have to do with me?
Inspired by the purity of the baby Jesus, I reflect on the scripture from Matthew 18:3, where Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Of course, as we mature, we must take on the responsibilities of adulthood. But all too often, along the way we become focused solely on worldly life. Our behavior and our choices are influenced by the people who are most important to us. In the past, it was parents, friends, and teachers. Today, we have a great many more connections through social media and the internet. These influences mold us into who we are. Along the way, we are prone to losing our innocence, and if we are not aware, we can also lose our potential for divinity.
The biblical creation story in the Torah (Old Testament) states, “Let us make humans in our image” (Genesis 1:26). The plural pronoun is the first hint that we are going to be brought into a relational, participatory, and shared life. The secret is planted within our deepest identity and slowly reveals itself. Then, for the most part, we turn away until our life as we know it comes close to the end.
Father Richard Rohr views religion’s purpose as reminding us of who we truly are: “The essential work of religion is to help us recognize and recover the divine image in ourselves and everything else too. Whatever we call it, this ‘image of God’ is absolute and unchanging. There is nothing we can do to increase or decrease it. It is not ours to decide who has it or does not have it. It is a pure and total gift, given equally to all.”
Contemplation Leads Us to Truth
Contemplation teaches us how to observe our own small mind and, frankly, to see how inadequate it is to the task in front of us. As Eckhart Tolle says, 98% of human thought is “repetitive and pointless.”
“Why do you look to one another for approval instead of the approval that comes from the one God?” (John 5:44). So many of us accept our self-image from within a system of false images. Whether we describe ourselves as smart, strong, good looking, or a loser—all are just words created by humans. This will never work. We must find our true self hidden within—that Divine image we are made in. St. Teresa of Ávila envisioned God telling her, “If you wish to find Me, in yourself seek Me.”
The one who is spirit took on flesh for all eternity. As C.S. Lewis says in Mere Christianity, “It is really, I suggest, a timeless truth about God, that human nature, and the human experience of weakness and sleep and ignorance, are somehow included in his whole divine life.” Jesus had to be made like us in every way (Hebrews 2:17). His body is not insignificant.
Transformation through Love
So, I ask the question, “Why? And what does this have to do with me?” We all have some kind of image of God, but how do we know these are not false images? I believe we cannot begin to find the answer until we are willing to be reached by an all-transforming movement of love. This is based in trust, to be willing to let go and let be. As Meister Eckhart says, “For the person who has learned to let go and let be, nothing can ever get in the way again.”
Whether you are Christian or not, we can start with an image of the baby Jesus, the ultimate expression of God’s humility, and let go of all the garbage we carry. Christmas to me is a reminder that God became human so that we may become Divine. Our DNA is divine, and the divine indwelling is never earned by any behavior, group membership, ritual, or hiding from it (“Hiding from God” Genesis 3:8, “How did you know you were naked?” Genesis 3:11). When we don’t see ourselves as Divine, we can easily instead experience nakedness, vulnerability, guilt, shame, and rebellion. We must rise above, recognize, and realize (see Romans 11:6; Ephesians 2:8–10) and thus fall in love with the God within and share it.
Our Lady of Vladimir: The Virgin of Tenderness
Our Lady of Vladimir, my personal favorite icon, also known as Vladimir Mother of God, and the Theotokos of Vladimir, is a 12th-century Byzantine icon depicting the Virgin and Child.
Icons are images of a sacred person or scene used in the Eastern churches of the Christian world. True icons are the culmination of a long period of prayer, meditation, and fasting undertaken by the artist. In this way, the artist is brought close in spirit to God. Thus, icons are often called “a meeting of heaven and earth” or “windows into heaven.”
This icon, depicting the Virgin Mary with the infant Christ nestled against her cheek, is also known as “The Virgin of Tenderness.” From antiquity, Mary has been called “Theotokos” or “God-Bearer” (Mother of God). The Theotokos is the most elevated human being in the Eastern and Western church. She is the ultimate example of the human capacity to surrender, trusting in God and following that trust.
May each of us begin again and truly live, believing that we are made in the image of God. Let us manifest selfless love, let us be the Light in the world, and with joy in our hearts, let us be of service to others. Let us truly reflect the birth of Christ in our souls. This Divine heart within is a spiritual portrait of the heart of the universe: strongly aglow with the divine fire, beaming light in every direction, and at the same time open because it is wounded.
Wishing a Joyous Christmas, Winter Solstice, belated Chanukah, and a Happy New Year to you all and our world. May our prayers be our words in deeds, and may our earth be made very peaceful because of each of us.