An odd run-up to this, my forty-seventh Christmas on Earth. Alone in my house two days ago, chuckling at my own weirdness as I stood in bar of sunlight, a copy of A Year With Thomas Merton in my hands, and the supercharged chant of Rollins' Band "Shine" shaking the walls a little as I read. How this came to be I cannot recall. I do know that at the time, it made perfect sense.
I have been reading the Merton book since June, which is the month in which I acquired it. The short daily meditations I mostly read at the pace of one a day, in sync with the calendar. Time and circumstance conspired to disturb the symmetry of that schedule. Lately I have the habit of neglecting the book for days at a time, then catch up in a concentrated burst of reading when I have time. So it was this time.
"In The End, Grace Alone" the title of Merton's meditation. Henry Rollins exhorts me to "Shine" as I read it. I lean against the door frame and grin. This time the apparent cognitive dissonance of the ideas before my mind does not bother me. Merton writes of his frustration with being an intellectual in a land of "businessmen and squares", while Rollins practically boots me in the ass to be a hero. It is to laugh, and I do.
Truly it does not bother me, these two ends of the tug rope. I've lived with the bifurcation of my interior life for so long it seems normal. I feel like a warrior-poet, except I cannot squarely identify my foe or my muse. I very often, in the words of Calvin (of Calvin and Hobbes fame), "obey the inscrutable exhortations of my soul". These exhortations I have trouble explaining to myself, much less to others.
Yet I listen. I savor. I worry them with the teeth of my mind. Somewhere on there exists my destination.
The season and in particular, this day, always place me in this frame of mind. A season of merriment and good will towards humankind marred by either too much belief or not enough. By some lights it isn't enough that you be kindly disposed to those around you, you must be Christian and you have to believe. Never mind all the ironies involved in the chauvinistic demands for "keeping Christ in Christmas" when Christmas itself was taken over from a pagan holiday and has been further hijacked by a consumer-driven, free market (arguably) capitalistic and money-driven culture. No wonder this time of year produces so much anxiety in so many.
There seems to be little real peace, and true love. For better or worse, Christmas as a season and a holiday has been dilated too much by the demands of an open society for the 'at-large' return to a ritual acknowledgment of the birth of Jesus Christ. To do so would be to ignore entire segments of our society, and would not be allowed by the money machines of consumer capitalism because it would cut down on the profit pool. From what I see in the news, it is either about mass consumption or religious narrow-mindedness. Hardly anyone speaks of peace, at least, not in a pure sense.
For myself, I want peace of mind. I want the simple joy to be found in caring for those around you and in the communion with life in the universe. I do not want to be wrapped up in questions of salvation versus damnation, belief versus non-belief, extravagant consumption in the face of need. The former question misses the point of personal faith, and the latter question is one that exists independently of any holiday. Neither is a question to be solved if this is supposed to be a matter of peace and love.
Thomas Merton and Henry Rollins: the yin and yang of my Christmas season. They both speak to me, in different tongues. The thinker and the warrior tell me to seek inner peace, but I will have to fight for it. This makes me laugh. Salvation and consumption both seem to me to be missing the main point: that we should exist in love and seek peace in ourselves so that we may know it with others.
As I meditate on my roots this Christmas, I feel I am closer to casting aside the distractions and noise of this world, and getting much closer to love and to peace. This is my wish for us all.