By Margie Anne Clark
“God offers to every mind its choice between truth and repose.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
As I look forward to the advent of another Christmas season spent with my ever growing family, I am reminded that life with its challenges is always renewing itself. Even in the face of triumphs and tragedies, I know this to be true. Okay, so I’m an optimist. Always have been. But even I know that time marches on. We grow up, our kids grow up, neighbors come and go, close friends move away …
But there are some things I hope will remain constant in life, like love of family, dear friends, cherished memories, and of course, Christmas. In these modern times, it seems that the season of Christmas has managed to transcend religious beliefs to include a universal celebration of the human spirit and good will.
I was raised with basic Christian tenets, but I have always believed in the importance and commonality of all religions which espouse the concept of good will towards all people. A great world leader, Pope John Paul II addressed this issue in his 1994 book, “Crossing the Threshold of Hope.” In it, Pope John Paul II cites in his excerpts a church document entitled, “Nostra Aetate,” (In Our Time).
“From the beginning, Christian Revelation has viewed the spiritual history of man as including, in some way all religions, thereby demonstrating the unity of all human kind with regard to the eternal and ultimate destiny of man … There is only one community and it consists of all peoples. They have only one origin, since God inhabited the earth with the whole human race …” (Nostra Aetate I-2).
Pope John Paul II wrote: “Thus instead of marveling at the fact that Providence allows such a great variety of religions, we should be amazed at the number common elements found within them.”
In this day and age of post-9/11, the War in Iraq and conflicts around the world , it’s easy for us to forget the common bonds of humanity that bind us. Pope John Paul II cites another expert from the Nostra Aetate:
“Even if over the course of centuries Christians and Muslims have had more than a few dissensions and quarrels, this sacred Council now urges all to forget the past and to work toward mutual understanding as well as toward the preservation and promotion of social justice, moral welfare, peace and freedom for the benefit of all mankind (Nostra Aetate 3).”
But the world is a complicated place.
When you look at difficulties and suffering that sometimes arise within families, communities and between friends, one wonders how in the world the many diverse people of the world can ever get along in peace and harmony.
And one wonders if there are those who are not deserving of any respect.
But as it says in Galatians, all of us are “children of promise.”
Christ himself addressed this issue when he said to the apostles: “Take courage, I have conquered the world (John 16:33). But he also cautioned:
“When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke, 18:8).
Life is a paradox. In Christian faith, we are taught that Christ was born to save mankind from sin. Yet, in sin comes the opportunity for grace. The birth of Christ in a lowly manger was honored in grace and profound respect by wise men and kings who brought gifts to herald in His sojourn on Earth.
Because of this, gift-giving seems to be a big part of the Christmas celebration. It’s a way to take time out and give tokens of thanks to those who have touched our lives. In this sense, gift giving takes on a universal spirit. But in the hustle and bustle of finding just the perfect gift, or being stressed out, it’s important to take time out to simply be a friend.
A kind word, an act of thoughtfulness and courtesy can mean just as much or even more than an expensive gift. Ralph Waldo Emerson eloquently pointed this out in his essays on spiritual laws:
“Let us lie low in the Lord’s power and learn that truth alone makes rich and great. For it is only the finite that has wrought and suffered: the infinite lies stretched in smiling repose.”
Emerson goes on to write: “If you visit your friend, why need you apologize for not having visited him, and waste his time and deface your own act? Visit him now. Let him feel the highest love has come to see him … be a gift of benediction. Shine with real light and not with the borrowed reflection of gifts …”
While gifts are an important part of the holiday season, friendship, love and respect for our fellow human beings are by far the greatest gifts of all.
Margie Anne Clark is a writer based in Los Angeles. All rights reserved.