The Reason for the Season

A confession:

The subheading of this blog has been changed. I’m guessing the Bard won’t mind terribly if instead of spending 365 days with him, I devote 362 to him instead.

While wandering around Petco last night, questioning again how pointless and material this season of holiness has become, I realized how my location (see below) for this line of inquiry was no coincidence.

If you’ve read Milan Kundera’s Unbearable Lightness of Being, you might recall a pointed question asked by one of the female characters. She wonders why it is that we love animals unconditionally… and yet how almost impossible it can be to do the same with humans. Our pets do not stint or play games with their affections; we respond in kind, by opening up and pouring out our hearts in ways that perhaps reveal the true nature of our deepest and purest emotions.

Love among human beings is more complicated for many reasons. But it occurred to me (duh) that Christmas is the one time of year we set aside specifically to practice that ideal among our fellow men and women: to give unto others, and to remind them how much they mean to our lives.

It’s a classic theological inversion of the selfish gene.

If you watch enough commercials, you detect the not-so-subtle suggestion that it may be noble indeed to give, but truth be told, we’d all naturally prefer to receive. That’s what makes Christmas feel so lurid and crass if observed from afar. It’s a bunch of people shopping just because it’s the expected thing to do. Doesn’t matter if you feel a damned thing. Or know or care or empathize with the person you’re buying for.

How easily the marketplace taps into this syndrome! Shop till you drop. Not only is it good for the national economy, it fulfills your social obligation at the same time.

But if we’re aware to it, the image of the Madonna and Child before our very eyes beckons us to search our souls for the deeper spirit and purpose of giving. For that bond is an expression of utmost love in both directions, bestowed and received with a measure of freedom and joy that outshines all other relationships except that between us and our Creator.

We echo that love, mirroring the grand metaphor in this season, not through the purchase of material objects but by our turning away from ourselves and meeting the needs and desires of others. When we connect like this from soul to soul, a magnificence can’t help but radiate forth. But we have to realize that comes from the heart, not a store. That this is a time when the market must shut down and the church open its doors.

Of course this connects to Shakespeare! No — I haven’t lost my mind or direction. At least I don’t think so. Not yet.

For what it comes down to is a distinction between the spiritual and the profane. We are creatures of both, spirits in the material world.

Which of these we honor from moment to moment is up to us.

But now — and at Easter and Thanksgiving — the Bard must kindly oblige to step aside for a purpose even more universal and grander than himself.

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