This year i have the privilege to celebrate Christmas once more at a small monastery in a lovely lake region of my native Austria. In these surroundings and especially at this festive season i am surrounded by images from the Christian tradition. As in the days of my childhood, their language speaks to me and makes all my senses tingle with joy.
But nowadays i cannot help remembering that many people no longer understand that language. Can it be translated into a different idiom to make the insights and experiences it contains accessible? But then i realize: images need no translation; their language is universal. They speak to anyone who opens eyes and heart.
Central to Christmas is the image of the child. And doesn’t this image speak to every human heart?
How urgently we need the guiding image of the child in a world that has grown old. In one antiphon of the Christmas season we sing: “The old man carries the infant, but the infant guides the old man.” Although this refers to ancient Simeon taking the Christ-child in his arms, it always brings to my mind a little boy riding on the shoulders of his grandfather and guiding him by pulling now one ear, now the other.
Aging can be a process of “saging,” as my revered friend Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi points out, or else it can lead to fear and anxiety. Only a child’s trust can re-direct our fear-ridden society. Paralyzing fear or childlike trust – the choice is ours.
From fear springs violence – yes, not the other way around. Even a tiny mouse will attack when it gets frightened enough and can’t flee. Fear invented wars, weapons, and all the violence weapons can cause – all the way to the recent carnage in Connecticut that makes the mind reel with outrage and sorrow.
From fear springs arrogance – from the frightened toad that inflates itself to impress an aggressor to a display of conspicuous consumption that thinly veils the fear of being outdone by a neighbor.
From fear springs greed – beginning with a sense of scarcity (“Will there be enough for my wants?”) and ending with exploitation and economic collapse.
No wonder, then, that violence, arrogance, and greed disfigure our fearful society. No wonder we long for the world of the fearless child, the world of non-violence, mutual respect, and joyful sharing.
To let the child-in-you guide you – by the ears, if necessary – toward building this new world, this is what i wish you most of all for 2013. It will take courage, strength, and wisdom, but – ”fear not!” – together we can do it. Let us run with grateful joy toward the opportunities a new year holds out to us.
~ Your brother David