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Silent, Holy Night
By Judith Gayle | Political Waves

Here we are, then, ready to celebrate Christmas 2009 and brace ourselves for the final year of a decade that will go down in history as the volatile introduction to a turning point for humanity. I suppose we could pretend that it's just like any other holiday season we've celebrated, same old same old, but that would be missing the point entirely. This ain't yer average holiday season; this one has potential to be something more. And in the amazing energy of this Shift of Ages, it is incumbent upon us to take the time to create it differently.

Planet Waves
Adorazione del Bambino (Adoration of the Child). (1439-43), a mural by Florentine painter Fra Angelico.
Despite what Jesus, the teacher, told us so long ago about not creating him as a person to worship, we did. It all got contentious after that. The mythologies surrounding his birth are softer than those of his death, easier on the ear and heart. Both speak of hope and the overcoming of darkness, but most of us can take more joy in such a portentous beginning than muster the faith required to accept the end as a metaphysical miracle. Consequently, Christmas is easy on the heart even for those who don't believe it ever happened. Hard to argue with a baby in a manger and the gentle feelings we can bring to such a moment, and infinitely easier for capitalism and consumerism to ride roughshod over than the sobering energies of Easter.

For many of us, Christmas is a cultural exercise. If we aren't religious, we still have secular options during this period. Santa, magnificent though he is, isn't a religious icon, and gives us a place to weather the holiday storm. Particularly since the turn of this new century, the 'reason for the season' has morphed in our minds with those who practice a violent, extreme Christianity. It's pretty hard to warm to a religion that has become repressive, repugnant and so emotionally skewed it feels virtuous in collective prayer for the death of a frail and beloved senator so that its political agenda can be realized.

Hard-core religiosity has always had the ability to harm, of course, to perpetuate the aggressive "us/them" dialogue we've been trapped in for the entirety of the Piscean Era. Karl Marx, villain in the eyes of so many, is quoted as saying that religion is "the opiate of the masses," wielded like a club to control the great unwashed and keep them lulled. Yet that isn't all he said, and when you examine his commentary in Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right, you might even nod your head in agreement:
Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and the protest against real distress. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness. The demand to give up the illusion about its condition is the demand to give up a condition which needs illusions.
As a facilitator for A Course in Miracles groups over the last thirty years, the hardest part of sharing the concepts has been getting people past their religious scarring. Those who take part are invariably seekers, of course, looking for some spiritual meaning in their lives, and most have moved past Christian rhetoric. Only a few pages into the Workbook, I almost always find myself met by a determined look of skepticism on the faces around me. Course was channeled as a love letter from the Christ, a way toward freedom from the hypnosis of 3D thought and religious programming, but in order to see things differently, we have to work our way through the many distortions. This is never welcome news to the newbies.

Consequently, students new to Course find themselves knee-deep in Christian thought and verbiage, immersed in scriptural concepts and difficult language. My challenge is never in convincing them that the material will change their lives; they're eager for such a possibility. My difficulty is in getting them to forgive their past experiences of religion in order to contemplate Christianity anew. Most of them had thrown the baby -- and the Christ child -- out with the bathwater. Then in order to dig deeply into the energy of lovingness and discover our freedom as children of God, we have to reclaim it. We must reconsider the life and times of that babe born, so they say, in Bethlehem on a silent, starry night.

Rebellion is a critical part of our personal evolution. If we haven't bristled against the apparent disinterest of God in the affairs of humankind or spit in the eye of the Almighty, we don't have much of a relationship with It. It's the beginning of wisdom when we stand in our apparent smallness and test what we have been led to believe about the authority of the Allness. It plows the ground of our authentic self. We can't be afraid to go back over our earliest understandings to refine and rethink. Isn't that what a seeker is?

I no longer identify myself as singularly Christian, of course, far from it. Early on, I was a seeker too, discontent with the mundane interpretations of my childhood faith. That went on for many years as I explored religion, philosophy and myself, until one day I realized that I wasn't looking for answers anymore. I was attempting to live the principles that I'd embraced and what was left to discover was within that practice, not written in a book or directed at the hand of a prophet or guru.

Planet Waves
Reproduction of sheet music from the Sunday School Book, General Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, No. 65, page 114.
As a result, while I no longer consider myself religious nor attend any church on a regular basis, I feel at home in all of them, and the Christmas story enchants me still. That's because it provided humankind with an introduction to the consciousness of unconditional love, coloring all other devotional practice with its powerful message. As much as FDR's tenure was a break with the political past, so is the Old Testament's "eye for an eye" law made obsolete by the New, with its message of love. The story of Christianity's beginning, embellished as it has become, may or may not be fantasy, but the energy of Christ Consciousness is very real. It's the energy moving us into a new era.

When I think of the Christmas story, I think of the carol Silent Night. I think of the calm quiet of a starry evening, the gentle whispers of the night all around me, the sky a landscape infinitely more interesting than all that lies in view during the day. When I ponder the meaning of that child's birth over two thousand years ago, it's the third verse of the carol I hear in my head:
Silent night, holy night
Son of God, love's pure light
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth
Light, love, grace. All these came to us in a new way on a silent night long ago, as powerful today as then, and still the way forward into our future. Karl Marx got it wrong when he spoke of religion soothing over oppression in a heartless world, a spiritless situation. That is lip service to the Christ message and misunderstanding of the power of love in service to the whole. There's nothing wimpy about Christianity and Christ's call that we love as he loved us. Nothing cowardly about choosing peace before aggression and violence. Nothing easy about forgiving and choosing mercy and compassion over revenge when our humanness would rather exact its pound of flesh.

Obviously, Marx didn't understand the holy implications of that first silent night. I think he would have been surprised to find Something in the stillness that he hadn't counted on. He got the cynicism right, of course, and there's no denying that our understanding of religion has been as deliberately dumbed down as has our grasp of politics, economics or science. Pipe dreams and fantasies serve as religious fodder to keep many of us on a short leash, but the spiritual essence hidden within Christianity is still the muscular, unyielding and authentic tableau of love made manifest. Too many of us have not done the work to find that fearlessness and transcendence.

"I like your Christ," said the Mahatma, "I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."

Letting go of illusions, accepting reality, and then choosing to allow our Higher Angels to inform our way forward into greater expressions of love and service doesn't sound like sissy stuff to me. The Christianity of Martin Luther King was gutsy and unshakable. Mother Teresa lost her illusions about the historical Jesus decades before she began her Christed ministry to the dying in India. The higher aspirations of Christianity are more than the sum of its parts as practiced today, and its message of atonement -- at-one-ment -- a saving grace to lift us upward. God so loved the world, says the Book, that It gave us an example of love in action. What must we do, then, to honor that expression? Love back.

Perhaps we could use a little more Christ in Christmas -- not the holy warrior designed by the cynical Christocrats but the gentle peacemonger that asked for the children to be brought to him. For those who seek truth, the answers are always within the question. Why has the life of an itinerant teacher changed the world? What might happen if we actually did what he asked us to do? Can we love our way out of our troubles? And what will the world look like if we don't try? The full, heart-opening energies of our very transcendence were born in consciousness on that silent, holy night we sing about during this season, setting a template for human evolvement -- change and Shift -- that continues even to this day.

So here's the desire of my heart for you today. May you go deeper. May you reach higher. May you fearlessly seize what is good and loving and share it generously with those around you. May you find within yourself those satisfactions you've been taught to seek outside of yourself. May you realize how beloved you are, a child of God and a powerful spiritual entity, busy creating what tomorrow will look like for yourself and the rest of us.

May you enter the stillness long enough to know it's not empty but full to brimming with all the beauty you've forgotten about yourself, with wisdom and truth. May you have a holy moment, a revelation that illuminates your connection with this lovely planet, and the oneness of all the life forms that reside upon her. Whatever your traditions, your belief system or your religious expression, all of us at Planet Waves extend our wish that your holiday practice brings you the joy of peace, love and Light.

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