Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas Day Memo: What We Do Matters

We hope our readers are, like us, enjoying Christmas Day. For those of you who aren't Christian--be you Jewish, Islamic secular or other--we hope you're enjoying the day off, and celebrating the holiday in whatever way you choose to--or choose not to.

Christmas has become in one way or another a universal, secular holiday, in addition to its religious origins and true meaning. Family gatherings and dinners, gift exchanges; these traditions are celebrated by many non-Christians and non-religious peoples in addition to those of the Christian faith.

To us, the symbols of Christmas are what's most important, regardless of your religion or lack thereof. And chief among the symbols and spiritual elements of Christmas are: Hope, Kindness Sharing, Giving and Renewal.

In this spirit of Christmas then, we want to share with you two essays we read very early this morning over coffee. It was so early that everybody was sleeping. In fact, it was so early we even think we might have heard the scratching of sled tracks on the rooftop as we were brewing our coffee, signaling the departure of a certain mystical fellow who visits just once a year, on Christmas morning.

Both of these essays speak to the concepts of hope, kindness, sharing, giving, love and doing good deeds and more, each in their own unique ways.

What we do matters: A Progressive Proposal---Hope

The first essay is from Washington Post syndicated columnist E.J Dion Jr. "Hope is an overused word and an underrated virtue," Dione writes in his column this morning.

"We 'hope' for all kinds of things, from the trivial to the profound," Dion writes. "But hope is both a habit and a discipline. It is an orientation toward the future based on the conviction that we live in an ultimately trustworthy universe. Hope is the virtue on which faith and love depend."

Dion goes on to discuss how the idea of Christmas is in many ways a "radical" and "progressive" one in that it celebrates new life and birth; a theme that crosses cultures and traditions. "This sense of Christmas has a beauty all it own and embodies a nearly universal quest for renewal," Dion writes.

And its hope, Dion suggests, that in the final analysis is the individual and social precondition for for acts of trust, which in turn is the precondition for reform, renewal and spiritual redemption.

The thrust of Dion's essay is that "What we do matters," personally and socially. And, "without hope, non of is even worth trying," he says. (Read Dion's full essay here.) His piece is a Christmas story for sure--but even more importantly it's an object lesson for living the other 364 days of the year.

What we do matters: Peach on Earth, as it is in heaven?

The second essay is by Howard Smith, a senior astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. In the essay, published in this morning's San Francisco Chronicle and other papers, Smith also talks about hope and the concept of "peace on earth" which is embodied in Christmas.

He asks the question, "What does peace in heaven mean"? As an astrophysicist as well as a scholar who's work focuses on blending modern cosmology and religion, specifically the Jewish Kabbalah tradition, Smith discusses how the universe is a dynamic and ever changing place. That, like in human life, their is constant renewal, birth (new stars constantly being born) and chaos in the cosmos.

He explores the thought of what peace in heaven could mean on this Christmas Day by looking nor only to the skies but to religion as well. He sights as an example, the Jewish mystical school of Kabbalah, which has a theological tradition that the universe was created in an explosive burst. In this view, the universe was dynamic. "There is birth and death, harmony and discord, conflict and confusion, beauty, and even destruction," Smith writes. (Sounds much like human life and societies, doesn't it?)

In this view of the world (socio-culturally as well as cosmologically), people and what they do can make a difference, Smith says. "In a world that was created but evolves we can make a difference," he writes. Smith sights the saying of the Kabbalists--Tikum olam, repairing the world, as the task for all of us in our daily lives. To use love, good deeds and righteousness to make the world a better place is the recipe Smith offers in his essay.

"I suggest that when we pray for peace as it is in heaven this season, we neither rely on supernatural intervention nor hope to replicate the fictitious vision of a sterile cosmos, but rather kindle a mindfulness that 'what we do matters,'" Smith concludes. (Read Smith's full essay here.)

Merry Christmas.

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