Making the World Fresh

Christmas is approaching…

…at a time when America is exploding with righteous protest over the criminal justice system’s discounting of black lives…

…at a time when the United States, the world’s foremost democracy, is grappling with the fruits of its own foray into torture as a method of governance after September 11, 2001…

…at a time when the wealthy nations gathered for climate talks in Lima are balking at aid commitments to developing nations (even though the right sort of development is key to ensuring that poor countries do not follow our same perilous route to high carbon emissions)…

Amidst this time, I have been here in Hawaii, contemplating another Christmas with balmy breezes and palms. Then, last week, a New York friend called to say they were having their first “real” snow and she was hoping it would stick.

IMG_2689It struck me just how elemental that wish for a White Christmas can be. Snow on Christmas Eve is not just about the promise of snowball fights on Christmas Day. It is about the promise of newness. Everything fresh and clean. The blank slate.

And Christmas does not simply represent the birth of the child destined to renew the world. It has come to symbolize the very possibility that the world can be renewed.

As Unitarian Universalists, we are forthright in twinning our spiritual lives and social values. This makes for a fruitful but demanding calling. We are asked—more precisely, we demand of ourselves—to exhibit the courage and wisdom to fix things in this world.

Recently my colleague, the Rev. Scott Wells, called on us Unitarian Universalists to push forward with the cause of systemic reform in the wake of the police slayings of Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, and numerous other unarmed black individuals, men and women. He suggested we have little “to gain by (what amounts to) an exercise in collective holiness.” Feeling the cause, speaking it to one another, is not enough.

Rev. Wells is right. We need action, not merely affirmation. However, I doubt it is the appetite for action that is lacking. Sometimes the path is simply cloudy: where to gain purchase, how to fit into broad social causes that can feel amorphous or overwhelming.

More often, and more problematically, I suspect that few of us truly sense within ourselves the capability of being agents for significant change, of the power not merely to be renewed, but to be the force that brings about renewal.

In this respect, I believe the spirit of Christmas, with its implicit, joyous message of the possibility for renewal, could benefit from conversation with two very different traditions—one spiritual, one scientific.

The first tradition with which to converse is the Tibetan Buddhist tradition of the Middle Way, which prepares its adherents to understand every moment as a new moment, to see the present as fruitfully unstable, rife with the possibility of tipping over into something new and unforeseen. It teaches shuttling between the expected—the world as we know it and have narrated it to date—and the realm of the unexpected, unfixed, and becoming.

There is an analog to this idea in the work of 18th century French Jesuit mystic, Jean-Pierre de Caussade, who wrote in his The Sacrament of the Present Moment: “The more a soul loves, the more it longs, the more it hopes, the more it finds. The will of God is manifest in each moment, an immense ocean which only the heart fathoms insofar as it overflows with faith, trust and love.”

The presence of godliness, of the power of the Spirit, is that thing that unlocks the potential of each new, fresh, moment.

The second tradition with which to converse is from the halls of science: chaos theory. This thought does not actually describe a chaotic universe; rather a universe so dense with causation that, as complex processes unfold, catalysts for change can be impossible to predict. Universe-changing tipping points may be manifest in processes and things so small as to go unnoticed.

Which is also to say: the tipping point could be any one of us, any day, any moment.

As Christmas approaches, I am yearning not for a sense of a fresh start, but for the recognition that fresh starts are nascent in every moment. Every. Single. One.

The opportunity for change is now.

And now.

And now…

None of us is that single savior come to renew the world, yet each of us is imbued with the power to renew ourselves. We have the power to rededicate our actions and, in doing so, potentially to be that one slight, unnoticed, extra causal force that makes all the difference between a world hurtling along a perilous path and a world renewed and changing course…

…a world more full of justice, wisdom, compassion, and joy…

…a world of Peace…

As Christmas approaches, a world beyond this tropic paradise and a world embodying and living aloha.


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