“Two possibilities exist:
Either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.”
Arthur C. Clarke
Spent some time this morning reflecting on the meaning of Christmas. Trying to get beyond the orthodox answers administered by seminary professors, preachers, and theologians. Searching deeper than the cultural myths offered by saccharine “holiday” movies, non-religious sentimental songs, and ached for family experiences no one I know ever seems to have. I simply tried to get quiet in the midst of all the tinsel and noises and think about what Christmas means to me on the morning of December 25, 2013.
What came to me was how much aloneness I encounter on a daily basis. Pain and death are two unavoidable experiences reality throws in our faces to show us how ultimately alone we all are in this vast universe. And I see these twin towers of fear on a daily basis as a hospice chaplain.
Pain is a prime experience of being alone because no one else feels what we feel. Trying to describe it to doctors, nurses, friends or family is really hard. And dying is the ultimate alone experience. We meet Death by ourselves – one on one.
Then I thought about how Jesus exploded into my life more than 40 years ago. Since that moment on November 21st, 1971 I have never felt alone. Never. Sure, I’ve had my share of pain and suffering, some deserved some not, but I’ve never felt alone. The biblical writer of the Letter to the Hebrews puts it like this: “for God has said, I will not in any way fail you nor give you up nor leave you without support. I will not, I will not, I will not in any degree leave you helpless nor forsake nor let you down (relax My hold on you)! Assuredly not!” I can honestly say that’s been my experience.
And that’s what I concluded Christmas means to me. Jesus’ birth was God’s dramatic demonstration (cue the angles, astrologers, and celestial star show) that we are not alone. We (God and us) are in this thing (life) together. And while pain and death may try to frighten us into thinking we are all alone – the reality is we’re not.
For the past month I’ve been reading Thich Nhat Hanh’s little booklet called the Two Treasures. One of the many lines in this short Buddhist meditation that has touched me deeply is this: “If we can alleviate someone’s fear, that is the greatest gift that we can offer them.” My prayer has become to make this my life’s work – to help alleviate the one I am with’s fear.
But, I realize this requires I actually live what I believe and live fearlessly myself. What a great Christmas present that would be!