By Celia Coates
This year I’ve felt worn out by all the “get-ing” that surrounds Christmas (and other celebrations of this season). It includes the question that we ask ourselves, “What am I going to get the people on my gift list?” and the question others sometimes ask, “What do you want to get this year?”. I’ve become cranky about the TV commercials that try to persuade us to buy ourselves a car or sign up to receive gift packages that will arrive throughout the year because we should have a continuing flow of treats. It’s all about spending money and getting stuff.
I do thoroughly enjoy Thanksgiving though, because it doesn’t involve buying piles of presents. Although it can load us up with too much food, it isn’t about getting more material goods, it’s about gratitude for all that we’ve been given.
Looking through some old papers I found this:
For all that has been – Thanks!
For all that shall be – Yes!
These joyful words were written by Dag Hammarskjold, the second Secretary General of the United Nations and a Nobel Prize winner, who died in 1961 while on a peace-making mission in a plane crash that might not have been an accident. In an interview Hammarskjold had said that we should live lives of active service as “a member of the community of spirit.” He’s quoted as saying,
“…I found in the writings of those great medieval mystics (Meister Eckhart and Jan van Ruysbrock) for whom ‘self-surrender’ had been a way to self-realization, and who in ‘singleness of mind’ and ‘inwardness’ had found strength to say yes to every demand which the needs of their neighbours made them face, and to say yes also to every fate life had in store for them when they followed the call of duty as they understood it.” *
This is about giving and about community, a yes to life that’s not about getting or just about ourselves. How lovely to pause during this season that celebrates a special birth – a baby who grew to teach us about love – and the Solstice that marks a turn in the cycle of the year towards light. We can pause and reflect on “all that has been” and to feel a great “Yes!” to whatever lies ahead.
Years ago I found these words by George Herbert, an English poet who lived from 1593 to 1633:
Thou that hast given so much to me,
Give one thing more – a grateful heart:
Not thankful when it pleases me,
As if thy blessings had spare days,
But such a heart whose Pulse may be
We can get the real meaning of Christmas when we let go of the steady distraction of bright and shiny new things. It may sound preachy but — how delightful to give heartfelt thanks, to be fully aware of gratitude, to be reminded that the center of the good life is love not riches. (And that life contains darkness as well as light.)
At least, I’m feeling much more joyful now.
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* This quote is from an interview with Edward R. Murrow that was quoted in Wikipedia. Dag Hammarskjold’s book, MARKINGS, was posthumously published in 1964, in translation from the Swedish, by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. and Faber and Faber, Ltd. It includes a fine foreword by W.H. Auden.
I’ve had the George Herbert quote for years and years and long ago lost which of his poems it came from.
The image that accompanies this post is from Pixabay.