To nourish your mind as well as your body

Anger and intolerance are the enemies of correct understanding.

-Mahatma Gandhi

Monday, December 21, 2009

Winter Thoughts

The thing that I love most about winter, I think, is that it makes me feel the same way I feel when I'm praying. I feel cold on the outside and warm on the inside, with just that tinge of shiver, and the knowledge that something larger than me is around me, pressing in on me, making me part of it.

I was raised Presbyterian. I'm not sure how other denominations handle their weekly ceremonies, but in the small, cozy churches I'm used to, we take time each Sunday to 'pass the peace' - a tradition that I've always enjoyed, though for different reasons over the years. As a child, it was fun to meet new people; older now, I always try to pass along a little of my inner joy to the people around me in those quick moments. Today, however, as we greeted our neighbors and introduced ourselves to strangers, listening to the hymn play in the background and saying 'peace be with you' and 'also with you', I had a whole new 'ta da' moment. Peace be with you.

It's a concept that's always been a talking point in the Christian faith, and has often been seen from the outside as a mockery and a hypocrisy. After all, looking at the history of Christianity, there isn't much peace-spreading to see. Wars against other creeds, wars between different denominations of Christians, religious persecution and torture - not very peaceful.

Of course, those aspects of what we consider 'religious fervor' are more representations of human nature than anything else. We fear what we don't understand; and then we seek to either eradicate or control that thing we fear.

Fear is something I deal with all the time, on many different levels. I fear the idea of being alone, I fear persecution and ridicule, I fear failure, I even fear certain individuals; and generally, I'm ashamed to admit, my first reaction when faced with those fears is a quick spurt of anger, lashing out against whoever brings it to my attention (and, my worst habit, lashing out at myself in an attempt to spare the people around me). But anger doesn't kill fear. Generally, it only adds fodder to the fire, placing me in situations when I learn greater fears and worse feelings.

So, peace be with you. Why not? When there's fear and anger lurking on the edges of me, making my shoulders tight and my stomach twist - why not succumb, take a breath, and offer peace to those who need it? I don't mean go up to a stranger and say 'peace be with you'. I mean, offer a helping hand to someone who needs it, give someone a part of yourself - time, a listening ear, a hug. As they say in Avenue Q, 'helping others brings you closer to God' - maybe it does. Have you ever helped someone out of generosity, without seeking something in return, and felt anything but wonderful?

As Christmas draws near (religious or non religious - your choice) and the hussle-bustle of shopping and wrapping, decorating and socializing, sweeps us all into a frenzy - take a breath. Slow down. Relax. Give some of yourself along with those brightly wrapped things. Breath in your own personal peace and breathe it out again, offering that moment of calm to those that need it. I will be trying to do the same.

Let us laugh at ourselves more freely, love each other more generously, and revel in the miracle of life and rebirth that is present in every heart during the winter season, whatever our religious persuasion. Peace be with you.

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