Christmas is always a time of deep reflection for me.
When I was a Christian, it was very much about the birth of Jesus: the idea that God was incarnate as a human child, vulnerable, one of us, and walked among us for a while.
The importance wasn't on what day he was actually born, or which culture we "stole" the idea of the Christmas tree from, or whether or not such celebrations and symbols were now essentially Pagan or essentially Christian.
For me, it was purely a time of wonder, a time of miracle, and a time of love. Because despite whether or not the stories were "true" in a literal sense, or whether or not Mary was a virgin, or any other oft debated aspect of the Christmas Tale, here was this fantastic story about an expression of love, and the very tangible connection between God and His Creation.
As an Orthodox Christian, my belief was that Jesus wouldn't have had to die on the cross if Adam hadn't sinned, but that he would have to have been born. That Jesus was God's signature on his creation, that we were complete in the joining of God to Man in the person of Jesus Christ. The original plan, the real purpose of Jesus was the bond between Man and God, and the need for his resurrection was a result of Man departing from God's plan.
And while I no longer have religious faith, I can appreciate a story that begins, "For God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten son..."
And that story, whether it's as literally true as the other Christmas tale we tell about a jolly fat man who lives at the north pole, is still a story that carries profound meaning. I can completely appreciate that people believe this story as a matter of faith, and can do so without the empirical evidence I require for belief. In fact, it's preferable for me to hear someone admit "this is a matter of my faith" than go through all the unscientific arguments some believers use to try to justify their faith... as if they have to... as if they should.
That story, that story that holds meaning for me, is a story of love and giving, and whether or not there is a God in Heaven, there is the need for love and giving here on Earth.
So every year I put up a tree. Every year I weep a little over the ornaments, each of which has a specific memory, place or person attached to it. There are ornaments from various trips, from different places I've seen. There are ornaments for my beloved cat Kali, whom I lost last spring to cancer. There are ornaments that belonged to my best friend Darlene, whom I lost a couple years back. And there are ornaments form here, from Santa Fe, from various events or which symbolize different locations in New Mexico, places I'll miss if I ever leave. I weep a little over my ornaments from Cabrillo Aquarium, missing life in California and the ocean. I weep a little over my ornaments from the BioPark, and the joys I had as a docent in the Zoo to You program. And sometimes they're tears of sadness and loss, and sometimes they are tears of joy in the memories.
For me, every ornament on that tree is a connection reaching back to something or someone important in my life.
At this time of year, I'm also a sucker for those Hallmark movies. Now I don't deny those stories have a lot of flaws, and are built on a myth that's both exclusionary, political, and naive. They're often stories about people who love the wrong things (which are usually expressed as elitists who are educated, financially well off, and successful, qualities which have, for some reason, made them unlikable as people) finding out that all they really want is to live in a middle class farm and make handcrafts and bake... so long as it's with someone who has the same characteristics (which makes them lovable)
And while I strongly resent the media turning Christmas into a time to instill an American Conservative myth on the American people, I also have to acknowledge that the reason this myth is so successful is that there are elements of truth to it: It's satisfying to live simply, to make things by hand, and to experience a soul-deep and true love.
I think at Christmas time we all suspend our disbelief a little... and while we may not acknowledge the Hallmark view of America, or Santa Claus, or Jesus, or Rudolph as "real", we do acknowledge the reality of love and the spirit of giving.
For some God is Love.
For me, Love is God.
So for some of my friends, "Merry Christmas". For others, "Happy Holidays". But for all, "Joyous Celebration of Love".
Saturday, December 7, 2013
|example of a color exercise in chapter 9 of|
Color, by Betty Edwards
And I've also treated my classwork in much the same way. I sit and work on a project, work it through until it's done, whether it takes 15 minutes or 10 hours.
But today I noticed I was working in bits and pieces. I was examining concepts one at a time, planning and pre-planning. And there are times, like now, when I'm not working on my project at all.
This above anything else gives me some hope: that I can walk away from a project and come back to it. That I don't have to limit my work to something I can do in a single sitting.
For me, that's an extraordinary discovery. I was afraid I was too set in my ways to learn this skill. And combined with my recently found ability to sit in peace and silence (although it's so much easier in the woods!) I'm finding new ways to recharge myself during a long task, whether it's a pleasure or an obligation.
Tomorrow I'll paint some more on my final project. And I'll likely still have a little painting to do on Monday. But I know I don't have to stay up any longer and paint. That it's OK to pace myself, OK to take breaks, OK to rest.
... and now I know I can do this with art, I know I can reduce my stress levels by applying it to other things as well. Not everything has to be done RIGHT NOW. Not every challenge is an emergency, requiring not only my immediate action, but an immediate solution. Sometimes it pays off to take some time, think things through, look at the situation from a different angle.
The most valuable lesson for this class wasn't how to mix colors of pigments, it was how to engage joyfully in a long task, keep the joy alive, and not rush or push through just for the sake of finishing.
Perhaps this is a metaphor for life: That the virtue is in the journey, not in the completion.