In a recent seclusion, this one in a little bungalow below the Ananda monastery, I felt especially close to Christ and our line of Masters. Occasionally footsteps could be heard approaching, then receding— outside the door I would find food, and an aura of kindness, self-offering and divine friendship so palpable that tears would come to my eyes. Into my mind came the image of a living crèche a few years ago.
The tableau was set in a busy shopping area of Nevada City, an island of peace in the turbulent sea of a primarily commercial Victorian Christmas. Here too Ananda Victorian Singers, in period costume, were singing with profound devotion, divine love pouring out through their voices to the Christ child and to the shoppers passing by. Listening to their angelic voices, feeling peace and joy infusing my being, unbidden came alive for me Christ’s commandment — to love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, mind, soul and strength, and to love thy fellow man as thyself.
I was attired as one of the three wise men, holding my gift, gazing toward the Holy Family. All around the holiday bustle continued — sometimes quite humorously. One little boy came up close, peered at me intently and, in a loud voice, asked the tall person whose hand he was holding. “Is he dead?”
In a way, he was right. All movement around had faded to a quiet murmur far away. Only the Christ child seemed real. The gift in my hands became the physical expression of my inner self-offering to Christ, to the true source of the profound stillness that enveloped me, to the true source of my heart’s opening to the Divine. Looking back later, I thought, “this half-hour’s role-playing was, by God’s grace, a tangible experience of the soul’s active longing to give itself completely to God — to give not only an outward gift, but to give oneself utterly.” In such moments, the goal is crystal clear — freedom in God, and boundless joy in that freedom, God’s sacred promise to us, His children, when, finally, we learn to hold nothing back.
As Christmas approaches, a grace descends on the planet — a greater openness of heart, a loving kindness, a universal impulse to help others, to give and share. The devotee recognizes the divine source of this impulse and turns his thankful heart to God. We have had a tradition at Ananda of writing Thanksgiving notes of appreciation, I have observed in myself that from Thanksgiving on, during the month leading up to Christmas, there is a building sense of appreciation of the light in others, and of gratitude toward the great Light that is the true source of the light increasingly evident in family, friends, even in those with whom there may be disharmony.
As the soul opens more and more to Christ, the soul opens also more and more to the Christ living within every being — family, friends, enemies, all creatures, all life. The gifts of the Magi become the gifts of the devotee’s heart, seeing the divine in everyone, pouring out appreciation, thanksgiving, gratitude for that divine presence, rising inwardly into one’s own true, divine nature.
The gifts of the Magi come in many guises. Every Christmas season Ananda members contribute to a community gift — something of spiritual value to the larger family. We receive gift cards to allow us to make our offerings in the name of individuals. As we do so, we find a joyful opportunity, made more powerful by the grace of the season, to look deeply into the divine center of each recipient, to honor and bless that divinity, and so to transmute social Christmas, a celebration of the Christ born and living within every being.
“In you and me,” Swamiji writes, “God dwells as the intelligent Christ consciousness that is in all creation. It is the expression of this consciousness in individuals which results in feeling for others as for oneself; in a deeper understanding of the needs of others; of greater kindness and compassion toward others; and in the practical activation of this consciousness in the spirit of divine love.”
It is my prayer that your loving service, devotion, and self-offering carry you quickly to the divine shores.
In Divine Friendship,