“The goal of practice is to always keep our beginner’s mind.” -Zen Master Suzuki
“I tell you the truth, you must change and become like little children. If you don’t do this you will never enter the Kindom of God.” -Jesus
Someone should come up with a theology of toys. By “theology” I don’t mean mean human imaginings about the inner workings of God, I just mean our attempts to talk about what life is all about.
There is something mystical about the power toys have over a child’s heart. To me and my brothers, Christmas was all about the toys. Practical gifts were always a devastating disappointment. For us, socks and underwear had no place under a Christmas tree.
At some level I knew the toys themselves were not the point. As I got older I began to open my presents more slowly. At some level I had learned that, when the presents are opened, the magic is over. We had spent months circling the various toys in the Sears catalogue. There was no way we were going to get all those toys, nor even the best of them. Our parents weren’t that well off so we knew we wouldn’t ever get a lavish Christmas, but there was something about the anticipation that made Christmas wonderful.
I know now that happiness was always in the hieghtened awareness. It was in the wonder, in the anticipation of toys much more than the actual toys., Christmas is a state of mind that toys only symbolize. It is the heightened awareness, not the actual toys and possessions that make us happy all through life.
When we lose that childlike wonder, our world loses its childlike magic. Robert Fulghum wrote of that emptiness:
“I know what I really want for Christmas.
I want my childhood back.
Nobody is going to give me that. I might give at least the memory of it to myself if I try. I know it doesn’t make sense, but since when is Christmas about sense, anyway? It is about a child, of long ago and far away, and it is about the child of now. In you and me. Waiting behind the door of or hearts for something wonderful to happen. A child who is impractical, unrealistic, simpleminded and terribly vulnerable to joy.”
The story about the birth of the Christ child is also a map back to our own child’s heart. It is no accident that we celebrate Christmas at the winter solstice. The Gospel of John tells the story of Christmas without Bethlehem, angels or shepherds. Instead, John speaks of a light shining out of the darkness. Our Jewish friends make the same point when Moses stands before a bush and sees an eternal burning. That’s what life is. That’s what we are. A light shining out of cosmic darkness.
We can forget the fact that our existence itself is a free gift. The universe owes us nothing, but here we are. When we forget the first gift (of life, of consciousness itself) we can be very critical of the life process. We can compare our problem filled ordinary lives to imaginary utopias. We can come to feel we are being cheated by life. But the real alternative to our present situation, is not some imagined world. The real alternative is non-existence. From that perspective we are wise to drop our grievances with reality and celebrate the gift.
In a moment ,we will sing a hymn that reminds us, “How silently, how silently the precious gift is given, so God imparts to human hearts the blessings of all heaven.”
In the meantime, we watch our Christmas candles grow short and burn out. Christmas reminds us that candles were meant to die into the light and so are we. I am a heretic in many senses, I don’t know about matters like the virgin birth, and frankly I don’t even care. What I do believe in and care about are life and love. Christmas is a reminder that our loves and lives are never wasted. They shine out as a gift.
If my calculations are correct, the light from the candles we lit as we began this service have just reached the planet Jupiter on their way to who knows where. Love shines out in the same way. Many of those we have loved and lost are not with us tonight. But we cannot say our love for them was wasted, nor should we assume that theirs for us was wasted either. Like the candle, we are meant to die into the light.
That light is shining in you now just as it did when you were a child. Experience draws our hearts from an immature craving for toys, to an appreciate of the gift of this moment. We need only go deeper than our wounds, habits and opinions to return to our original joy. If you want the excitement you felt as a child toward toys, and all they stood for, let Christmas be your road map. Let the holy child be reborn in you this night. All of the excitement and joy you once knew is still there and waiting for you in your child’s heart.