December 25, 2003 -- The holiday season is a time for spiritual reflection, celebration, and frenzied commerce. These activities might seem incompatible. They are not, and that's what makes this such a joyous season.
Christmas commemorates the birth of a child whom many see as manifesting the highest aspirations of the human spirit. But what exactly does the birth of a child, any child, manifest?
Children are born cute, tiny, and helpless. But they soon learn to focus their eyes, perhaps to stare in wonder, to smile, and to laugh at the toys, decorated trees, and pretty presents presented to them by doting family and friends. They learn to grasp with their little hands and to crawl, and soon to walk and run around the house—where do they get all that energy? They learn to say "Mommy" and "Daddy," to draw pictures with crayons, to build houses out of blocks, and to sing little songs.
They later learn to write words— cat, dog, school—and figure out that three times seven equals twenty-one. They ask lots of questions and explore any relative's house, park, and public or private place in which they're placed. They learn to ride a bike and repair its chain when it comes off. They make science fair projects with electric wires, motors, and lights. They learn ballet dancing, and how to play the flute and bake cookies. They play kickball and then football, basketball, and soccer. Eventually, they graduate from school or college and go on to pursue careers.
They then design skyscrapers and lay bricks for buildings; engineer new aircraft and repair automobiles; discover new medicines and assist surgeons in operations; advertise products and work on assembly lines; write software and manage websites; process orders for consumer products and clerk in stores. They do everything that makes this such a prosperous country. And many of them get married, have their own kids, and raise their own families.
In other words, those children are us! And the best of us keep the excitement and optimism of a child facing a bright future as we live our very grown-up lives. One way we can keep that spirit alive within us is to reflect on the deeper meaning of our journey from child to adult.
Our physical development is accompanied by the growth in the capacities—some would call them divine sparks—that make us truly human. First, we grow in our capacity to understand and thus to master the world around us, to create all those material things that allow us to survive and prosper. Second, we grow in our understanding of our moral nature. We know when we are being open and honest with ourselves, when we are focusing our minds and halting that passion of the moment to ask, "Is this right?" And we know when we are being deceitful and dishonest with ourselves, allowing some whim to cloud our judgment, or when we are being morally lazy or evading uncomfortable truths. It's not just Santa who knows if we've been bad or good. The one approach to life opens the world to us and our souls to joy; the other is the path to every form of debasement and evil.
We recognize that, by exercising this higher will, we achieve peace in our own souls. We never need to be ashamed of ourselves. We can look without flinching into the mirrors of our souls and be proud. We will want to treat with benevolence those who inspire us by choosing to seek the best within themselves. And we will want to fuel and nurture that spark in our children so that they will become adults who will achieve wonderful things.
Thus we celebrate the Christmas season and indulge our capacity for joy. We place dazzling decorations on our houses, buildings, and anything on which we can hang lights or tinsel. We feast on tasty treats. We sing beautiful songs of the season—inspiring, happy, or just plain fun! We show our love for family and friends, often with gifts that are the fruits of our productive capacity. We especially try to teach our children the meaning of the season. And most of all, if our hearts and minds are filled and open, we will reflect upon the spirit within us that can make peace on earth and peace in our souls truly possible.
[Published in the Washington Times.]