This month, I am sharing a story about Christmases Past, Present and Future.
Early January 1987. Huguenot, New York. First week of the first session of the Human Capacities School.
I’m sitting in a crowded dining hall with some of my thirty-something friends, enjoying delicious soup and salad while commiserating over our many funny-sad holiday stories, sharing our sorrow that the true meaning of the season has been lost. Shedding tears along with stories about disappointing family events and members. Sputtering out stories about the meanness of civil discourse and ongoing political corruption and stories about refusing to participate in the disgusting consumerism that makes our children greedy and ungrateful. (Does anything ever change?) Yada, yada, yada. Oh, how above it all we were…
The next week just before dusk, we 130 students gather to walk the 11-circuit Chartres style Labyrinth that the staff has heroically stamped out amidst a two-foot snow fall. The School’s Director Jean Houston says to us, “As you walk the labyrinth tonight, I invite you to ponder the symbol of the Christ child. Think about the true meaning of the past season. What does he represent to you personally? Transcend religion for now. Consider your own direct experience. Not what someone else has told you your whole life that he means, but rather consider what the Christ child means to your life now? How closely do you embody his meaning and message? How distant are you from living his meaning and message?”
The sun sets, drenching the sky in glorious shades of pinks and lavenders. Our breath puffy clouds as we walk, the path illumined solely by the tiny tea light lanterns we carry. The only sound the slow rhythmic strides of two hundred sixty feet crunching through the snow. Then, halfway through the Labyrinth, a child’s voice softly chants a mantra in my ear: “Reclaim your Innocence, Marti. Reclaim your Innocence.”
December 20, 1987. East Rogers Park, Chicago, Illinois. “You are invited to an Open House to bless my new home and to celebrate with me the Season of Innocence Reborn. Please bring a gift for a child in need.”
My guests gather to feast, rejoice, and tell funny stories and even boast a little about their absolute delight and success in shopping for gifts for their imagined child in need. Some confess to also buying a gift for their own inner child! For years to come, I hear how some of these guests have adopted a similar tradition for their own family!
Thus began my annual ritual of reclaiming for myself the meaning and message of the Christ child. A central component of his message is about vivifying the true nature of Innocence. To vivify means to animate, to bring to life. Thirty years ago Innocence reminded me to keep the Faith—to believe in the essential Goodness of life; to be willing to love and welcome the stranger; to keep my inner Light shining for all those who struggle in life’s stormy seas; to stand firm in the certainty that life will improve despite evidence to the contrary; to continually commit to be the change I want to see in the world.
I admit that some days it’s really, really hard to vivify Innocence, to keep the inner Light shining, and to ward off the culture’s preoccupation with despair, dystopian thought, and insidious Seinfeldian cynicism.
And on those days, I promise you that child’s voice still sings, “Reclaim your Innocence, Marti. Reclaim your Innocence.”
December 2017, Naperville, Illinois
In addition to driving around and delighting in the Christmas light displays, another way my husband Harry and I celebrate the Season of Innocence Reborn is to make a magical fairy tree full of birds and butterflies, each creature representing family members and friends. We even have a magic wand that turns on the lights!
If you want to hear an uplifting story about one man’s commitment to radical and clear-eyed engagement with Innocence in the unlikeliest place, I invite you to treat yourself to this On Being (52 minute) interview by NPR’s Kristi Tippett with Fr. Gregory Doyle, of Homeboy Industries in LA. Fr. Doyle is author of Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship and Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion. Curl up with a mug of hot chocolate, your favorite cookies, and be sure to have some tissues nearby!
May the Spirit of Innocence be Reborn in your heart this year
and be vivified all through 2018, dear ones!