I suppose most families in this culture make a habit of looking for Christmas lights on houses and in villages as they travel about at this season: we do. And I have noticed that there are a lot more lighted-up houses and decorations this year than last, at least in our part of the world. This would seem to indicate that the economy has improved, and people are feeling better and more able to afford the expenses of lighting up their homes.
Some of the lit-up homes we see are tasteful and lovely, and others are garish. When we see these latter, we laugh and groan simultaneously, but I am rather admiring of people who just pull out all the stops and put just about anything in their yards that says “It’s Christmas!” Why not? More power to them.
What is it all about? Many years ago, I realized that humans have a tremendous need for light, to recall the worlds they come through on their way to this one, and take hope from these vague memories of worlds long ago. I first realized this when I was a teenager and attended a Catholic mass with a high-school friend, a somewhat new experience for someone from the largely conservative community I then lived in. By that time, I had taken initiation in the Sufi Order, and had embarked on this path of light that I follow, so I was ready for what I saw there, in the multitudes of candles and the chanting and the beautiful liturgy. As a Sufi, I had quickly become able to agree with just about anything I heard as an expression of divine perception, and it was all beautiful to me, and meaningful. I do regret that by that time, Vatican II had ushered in an English liturgy and the priest was obligated to preach a sermon, which he botched completely with his conservative views on many things, and his need to make them a part of his ministry, causing me to sneak out while the mass was still meaningful to me . . . and I was uplifted by the entire experience which echoed, as Pir Vilayat often pointed out to his students, the High Mass in the heavens, the one that constantly expresses the devotion of the angelic hosts to the supreme divinity, and its prayers for the welfare of humankind. I tend to think there is some depiction of this in every religion, whether Diwali, Channukah, ‘Eids, the Winter Solstice…. And in this culture, which has become more and more of a ‘melting pot,’ I imagine it is pretty difficult for families not to make their children happy by celebrating some form of Christmas. I think it’s okay, but I imagine it’s an individual decision, whether to give into a cultural and, on the surface, greedy and shallow celebration of bourgeois materialism. But somewhere in our memories is the recollection of a world of light, of plenty, of celebratory joy that comes naturally to the spirit, and I think what we do arises from this memory.
Regardless of our surface interpretations of these traditions, it isn’t really about the toys and the presents and the tinsel and glitter, it is about what these evoke: a beautiful world of beautiful people, to again quote Pir Vilayat. It is about the hunger for light, particularly during this time when our part of the world tends towards darkness and we wait for the return of the sunlight that illuminates our beings and gives up hope. In my own worldview, we are, after all, beings of light, carrying memories of light on our heroic journey into darkness for the sake of the furtherance of God’s understanding and unfoldment. We need God as much as God needs us.