It has been one year since I had the blessed opportunity to discover the true meaning of Christmas. I have always been aware of the “reason for the season,” yet it wasn’t until I stepped away from the truth that I truly realized the deeper meaning of the “spirit” of Christmas: the kind that dwells within all of us, every single minute of the day.
On my search last year to rediscover my spirituality, it occurred to me that no amount of seeking outside of myself would ever uncover the connection I craved. I had been studying Judaism for the better part of the year, and in doing so got further away from my own truth. It was as if I listened to everyone’s truth but my own. I have always studied religion and been involved in a variety of experiences outside of my own faith tradition; it was my way of understanding who I am by gathering a plethora of wisdom from throughout the ages.
When I sat down with a dear friend to have one of our drawn out spiritual discussions, I was in the midst of finding an understanding that felt true to my heart. I’d been considering conversion to Judaism at the time, yet as deep into the process as I was, it didn’t feel like my way to the truth. It allowed me to understand the grace of God and the manifestations of that love all around me; I found in the end that my search allowed me to wander down a path until I found one that served my own heart.
As we walked along the path in my neighborhood park, underneath the moonlight, my friend Forest laid a truth bomb on me that was so profound it needed weeks to simmer in my mind. He shared a Buddhist teaching that encompassed my spiritual journey thus far.
The finger pointing to the moon is not the moon.
This concept left me perplexed until I digested it fully. Here, the finger represents religion, and the moon represents God or the ultimate truth. Each religion claims it is the way to God, yet it is only one way; ultimately there are endless ways to understand God or the truth of our existence beyond appearances. When this meaning finally sank in (and it didn’t happen overnight), I realized that I could study religion my entire life— trying to find the way to God— or I could finally accept that religion is merely one avenue to help me grow closer to God.
By the time Christmas arrived last year, I had given up my plans to convert. Instead, I let the magic and stillness of the Christmas season redefine my spirituality as my own truth dwelling inside of me. I inadvertently stumbled upon the email Forest had sent with the Buddhist teaching as well as an excerpt from Eckhart Tolle’s book, A New Earth. As I reconsidered the saying along with Tolle’s take on the spirit of Christmas, I began to creep closer to the truth than I ever had. And for the first time, it wasn’t in a church or a synagogue—it was inside my very own heart.
For the first time in my life, I saw that the in-dwelling God, Emmanuel (God with Us), Inner Buddha or Christ Consciousness (which Christ’s coming truly represents) was the truth I truly sought. It was my own nature—my very essence—that I was looking for all along. Until I realized that Jesus represents the inner truth of who we are as extensions of God, I struggled to reconcile my relationship with Jesus (and myself).
Since that fateful Christmas, I have realized my spiritual journey has been a homecoming of sorts. I found what I was looking for and it already resided in my heart; I simply had to return to the love that exists within me. And that’s the true miracle of Christmas: at the darkest time of the year we are reminded of the light within. Jesus came to this Earth to represent the human aspect of God which lives inside our hearts so long as we choose to embrace that sense of love.
One year after I returned to the truth in my heart, I’m still unraveling the truth within. Yet, this year I am finding myself truly embracing my God-self. I am allowing the true gifts of this season to shine within me, but this year I’m taking it one step further by allowing my light to shine outwardly to others. This is the true present I want to bestow upon others: loving kindness and compassion. The truest representation of the God within us in love in action: sharing that love for others to experience.
I have returned to celebrating Advent, a spiritual preparation for the coming of Christ (or what I like to think of as a reminder of the love within us and it’s ability to spread light into the darkest crannies of society). Pope Francis shared a beautiful insight into the humble servitude of Jesus, who cared for and healed the sick and suffering people around him. He provided hope to those in desperate need of the light and love of God. The Pope’s message urged us to follow Jesus’ lead by reaching out to the sick, oppressed and weary people around us.
Christmas is a time that represents service for me. It is a time to reach out to those who aren’t fortunate to have ample examples of love and light in their lives. Whether it’s providing gifts to children who won’t have anything under the tree or feeding the homeless, Christmas is a time when the world unites to bring hope to those suffering. This is the meaning of Christmas for me: bringing light and love to everyone who needs it.
The prompt at the end of the Advent reading asked, How might I offer a word or gesture of hope to those around me who are suffering? As I thought about the many people who don’t have a home or food to fill their bellies (let alone gifts under the tree), I found my heart curiously finding ways to spread joy beyond my usual scope. After I visited my dear hospice patient, Helen, and spread Christmas cheer to her, an idea came to mind, prompted by the Advent proposition and Jesus’ life.
I stopped at the Boston Market and bought a whole chicken which they divided into individual servings along with a mini cornbread. I naively thought I would be able to find those in need in my neighborhood, as I often see them along Cherry Creek. After walking along the creek bed to no avail, I returned to my car and headed downtown. I prayed to be led to those in need, and before I could give up I saw an electric cross with words “Jesus Saves” written in neon orange. I had stumbled upon the Denver Rescue Mission and outside its walls were the answer to my prayers.
I quickly handed out the still-hot meals along the street with grateful hands and hearts receiving the offering. Each person’s heart and soul blessed me as much as I was blessed them. A number of them were dumbfounded as I gave them their meals. I simply smiled and said I was sharing the magic of Christmas. And to me, the magic is seeing them as Divinely created extensions of God rather than the product of their circumstances. And that might have been a brighter gift than the nourishment.
I have seen my heart grow to see people’s souls rather than their appearances, circumstances or choices. As I walked the streets and greeted these souls, I realized the truth of who I am recognizes the truth of who they are. And everyone deserves the loving kindness and compassion that Jesus exemplified so long ago.
As I returned to my car, a few more men walked by, so I offered them all I had left: a few breadsticks from my dinner. One of the men asked if I had any Puerto Rican food in my bag, to which I laughed and replied, “Unfortunately, no.” He was joking, and graciously accepted the bread stick. As he leaned in close to my ear—even closer than I usually prefer—I only imagined what he might say to me. To my surprise, he whispered “God Bless You” with a most sweet tone. Those men and women had surely already blessed me, and as God has blessed me with warm food, the least I can do is pay it forward. That is love in action. That is the meaning of Christmas.
Before I could head home, I knew I could feed several more mouths with the money in my pocket. I picked up sub sandwiches and cookies around the corner and headed back the the Mission. The elderly woman I handed a warm sub to asked me where I got the sandwich. I had gone to the closest place I found, yet it was not the most cost efficient. She advised me that if I was going to hand out food, I might as well get the most for my money and feed more mouths. She said Subway has two-for-one sandwiches on Sunday. I smiled at her, and thanked her for the tip. I love a girl who knows her bargains.
A younger man approached me—one who had turned down the sandwich—and asked if I would like to buy the gaming station he had in a bag. I declined, saying I had spent all my cash on the food (which was not true); I had around $10 more dollars in my pocket. I had the intention to pass out meals, but not money. He seemed to be disappointed that I didn’t want to buy what he was offering; I have been at the place financially when I sold things to make ends meet (and still am). I could tell he wanted company when he asked if he could walk with me. I said of course, and I asked him some questions about his life. He was working part time but struggling to make ends meet. Knowing the feeling, I empathized with his situation and continued our discussion. We handed out the rest of the food, and he continued to follow me. I wondered if he’d leave before I returned to my car; it worried me slightly that he might not leave.
I slowly walked toward my car and told him I needed to get home to my dog (which was the absolute truth). I offered him the $10 I had in my pocket, and he stood in awe as I handed him the money. I guess it seemed like an overly generous donation. Still, he refused to accept it. I pleaded with him saying I’d been blessed to receive support in times of need. I simply wanted to pay it forward, but he would not accept the money. I asked him what I could give him instead. A hug perhaps? He obliged and coyly asked for a kiss, too. I agreed, if only on the cheek. As I embraced him and gave him a kiss on the cheek, I saw his ear-to-ear grin and knew it wasn’t the money he really needed. It was human connection. It was hope. It was love.
I considered that love in action can be providing a warm meal, but more than anything it is showing love, compassion and kindness for our fellow human beings. The beings that we are so closely connected to, who are a part of us and simply want to be seen, valued and loved for who they really are. I can relate to that craving for compassionate connection. And so perhaps I set out to feed some hungry souls and show them the love that Jesus shines within each of us, but I ended up learning a lesson in humanity.
This Christmas, the light that shines within me is shining outward in a manner that connects us all as children of God. I was deeply touched by so many beautiful souls last night, but furthermore I witnessed the love of Christ within everyone I encountered. When we approach others with that love in our hearts we end up seeing much more than their “identity;” we see into their hearts. We see they are humans, too.