Holidays Bring Time for Reflection and Balance: Rooting the Self in What is Essential

HOLIDAYS HAVE SPECIAL MEANING FOR EVERYONE

These are the holidays… again… and as usual it seems, these holidays started two months ago… almost three, for from the end of October and the bare cessation of Halloween, holiday decorations and talk of Thanksgiving and Christmas pounced upon us like a dog out of chemical balance that hadn’t had its fill of Porterhouse steaks yet.

Stores began to fill up with decorations and signs advertising sales and deals. Mercantilism took a firm hold on the visual, the audible, the spiritual and the emotional. Spangled signals of those overblown holiday wants and wishes were stuck in our faces and until these same holidays are over we will not be rid of them. Spangled signals… tinsel, shiny cash registers, bows, glitter, wrapping paper in gold and red foil, electric lights by the strand and by the net, festivals and parades full of floats, fake snow, cartoon characters and corporate sponsorship lighting up the avenues and boulevards as though spending money was going out fashion.

Somehow something seems lost in the mix and muddle and hurry of the holiday season, something that has been broken from our senses in some sort of way. Some folks get the meaning and some manifest that in ways that others cannot understand.

For everyone, “the holidays” have all kinds of meanings. To one, it means that breakout and roll – out of corporate bling and gleam; for another it is the spiritual where one must be in a church or before a Nativity scene; and to another it means standing with family and friends watching the parades and attending galas and really cool parties stocked with good food and gifts. For adults it means one set of things; for children it means other sets of things – attitudes that some understand culturally while others only watch and think what certain rituals mean.

Holidays are times of symbolism for everyone, for those who believe in deities and those who do not. But they are special times for degrees of reflection and all manner of such and of beliefs and rites must be respected, for in America it is a right of everyone to celebrate as they desire, and to express themselves as they wish. Naturally freedoms and rights come with a price, and that price is personal responsibility.

Our Constitution guarantees every American citizen certain inalienable rights and privileges, such as the freedoms to worship as we desire (or not to), of speech and to assemble peaceably. We can pursue life, liberty, and happiness – really comes to a head during “the holidays”, doesn’t it?

The mercantile aspect, well, that is something it appears we will deal with each in our own way. Holidays are really meant to be sacred occasions, and have been for centuries celebrated without the need for millions of dollars spent on advertising and gaudy decorations to attract attention and bring people in to purchase stuff that will get broken, returned, or discarded or otherwise rid of by recipients. There goes to waste the wrapping paper and gift bags and the time and attention paid to getting those gifts looking “just right” and all pretty for putting under the tree and in the stockings. A lot of energy is wasted here in so many ways in some eyes, but in some aspects it is not really a waste.

For in this season of winter, there is need for something to remove the heaviness of the grayness this time of year brings. When there is less natural light and more clouds to fog up our views and visions, we act differently, we sense and feel differently and we do not act as our “normal selves”, being at times moody and taken in by disorders related to holidays and winters. Seasonal Affected Disorder is real and it hurts many during this time in so many ways. For many the solution to conquer the holiday blues is to get into the “spirit of the season”. Even this phrase has many meanings.

Some folks bring out the lights and decorate from foundation to roof their homes and shops. Others go to the store and stock up on food to cook for large parties (cooking can be very grounding and therapeutic and settling and is a social activity to be shared). Others just “go for it” and raid the stores after just the special gifts for those on their lists. They will spend hours and wear themselves out in that search… and then after that they need the food waiting for them at home, victuals that someone spent hours preparing.

In the end what matters? Is it the sales, the deals, the specials and the material things? Is it the lights, the paper, the bows and the bags, the stockings and trees and ornaments of fragile glass? Is it the decorating and the big dinners?

Be grateful and joyful in all these things, and I think you will understand what matters in the end.

Divi Logan, Chicago, 2014.

Wisdom of the Magi: The Crown of Wisdom

This is the season of Christmas, and depending on how you view the meaning of the holiday (or, holy day as it originally was meant to be and proclaim), the time can be one of great joy and compassion and exuberance in many levels, or it can be a time of expriencing depression, SAD, and thoughts that bring the person low and into a rut of trying to tune out the bustling and the constant music.

Christmas in America (pronounced in this case, kriss- miss and not CHRIST- mas), has become much more than the holy day that has its foundation over two thousand years ago. These days, “the holidays” begin with Thanksgiving, and stores break out the holiday decorations to excess. It has people thinking, “Gee whiz all ready, it’s barely Thanksgiving and all ready they are putting out Christmas junk.” No telling how many times I have heard that when visiting some of the stores that specialize in home furnishings and other goods for the house, for guests, for cooking and drinking and yard care. Sure, Christmas is a time for being festive and colorful, light and merry, thoughtful, charitable, bustling about the house and kitchen and singing and decorating trees and mantels and the like. But it is also a time to reflect, to sit back and think, to consider the origins of the holy day and the significance that goes far beyond the giving of presents, of pushing about at the malls, of trying hard to find parking spaces and of adding thousands of lights to one’s yard and house.

THE ATTRIBUTES OF KINGS

crown jewels of Serbia, with Karađorđević crown

crown jewels of Serbia, with Karađorđević crown (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For the most part, those of royal persuasion have some things in common. I have always been fascinated with the idea of rulers and those who have power over peoples and nations; being an Anglophile I have found the British Royal Family a subject of study. I visited England and had the honor to see some of the places and things associated deeply with royalty, such as Buckingham Palace, the White Tower, the Crown Jewels, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and the House of Parliament.  Many of the pictures (in painting and in photographic form) show these august people in settings of splendor and elegance. They wear uniforms, robes, crowns, tiaras, gloves, golden jewels, sparkling jewels, and come complete with orb and scepter and rings. The jewels are splendid, full of diamonds and rubies and pearls, sparkling with color in their gold or platinum settings. The people stand in palatial rooms, full of columns and fine furnishings, books and tapestries.Royalty around the world have splendor as a common bond. Japanese imperial families attire themselves in wonderful robes; African kings wear ornaments of gold and garb themselves in precious fabrics, and the old maharajahs of India were indeed magnificently dressed. Speaking to the latter, the exhibit at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago gives a superb insight into the court life of those rulers and their households. But read deeply into what is said about the rulers and you find other facets of them and the lifestyle they were expected to lead, beyond dressing in pounds of gems, heavy robes, fine swords and such outward trappings of authority and displays of wealth. There was more than showing them as supposed descendants of the sun or the gods.

These rulers were people endowed with intellectual and religious pursuits as part of their daily lives. They were supposed to be people of poetry, art and the support of the arts, civil and dignified behavior, patrons of architecture and gardening and hunting. The splendid figures of the maharajahs were people of wisdom, the use of knowledge for, what we might see as ideal purposes, for the improvement of society and culture, for spreading intellectual pursuits and that which is connected to the idea of ruling a civilization.

WE THREE FRIENDS

Pieter Bruegel the Elder - The Adoration of th...

Biblical kings are described in such ways as well, taking Solomon as an example as he is supposed to be known for wisdom and wealth. Descriptions of his court and his pursuits in the Old Testament give us pictures of an exotic collection of people and material goods and curiosities of the natural world; Solomon’s encounter with the fabulous Queen of Sheba is well known. Now there is the example of Solomon, the example of David, and that also of Saul, but there are the three notables around whom this article revolves, the three “wise men” of the Christmas story’s foundation and signal event.

It would be safe to say that for these three nobles to meet on and take such a journey, a lot of preparation had to go into making it possible. One might speculate that, as their court scientists were ascertaining the time of the star’s appearance and its significance, they were making ready for the journey across the land to Jerusalem. When it was time, then, they set out with their parties, provisions, animals, and the gifts to present to the new king. The lands of these kings surely would be at peace and prosperous as well, for them to have such leisure to make such a journey and bring such precious gifts as gold, frankincense and myrrh. It would not have been diplomatic for a ruler to leave his land if there was war or some other problem that required correction. The wise person would correct the difficulties before taking leisure.

In the meanwhile their households, courtiers gathered around them in daily business, and retainers sewed robes and leggings and shoes for travel, and tended the animals and made the food and drink. The guards drilled and exercised and protected the gates and the palace so business could be properly conducted. These were the behind the scenes folks without whom the journey would not have been possible. The sages studied the records regarding the appearance of the heavenly object.

When at last these men met for their ride across the desert, they appear to have met as friends with a common goal. Paintings show them as three different looking men, not all light or dark, but with a couple of them as light in color and one as very dark, but all with the demeanor of kings. They did not meet to waste time discussing diversity or neighborhoods with their separation -mindedness, or anything else it seems save for accomplishing this mission and how important it was. It did not matter to those traveling with them what color anyone was – those details are not important in the slightest. They wanted to see where this incredible astronomical vision (star, comet, conjunction, supernova, gamma ray burst) would lead and what it meant; they wanted to know what they would find under its rays. They had to go through the obstacle of meeting Herod and his court, but they were warned not to deal with Herod and took another way.

When after this dusty, long, hard, dry journey concluded at the place over which the “star” stopped, the kings lit from their camels, they took their gifts and went in to see what they would find. In that humble place they saw, bathed in divine light and with an atmosphere of royal divinity all around them and the Holy Family, the new king, before whom without hesitation they presented their gifts, the best they had to offer. Paintings of this event are many and wondrous in their color and presentation.

The three friends accomplished their mission.

We can learn a lot from them.

Vincenzo Foppa - The Adoration of the Kings - ...

Vincenzo Foppa – The Adoration of the Kings – WGA7999 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Divi Logan, Nashville and Chicago, ©2012.

Wisdom of the Magi: A Special Journey

THE GIFTS OF CHRISTMAS, PART ONE OF TWO

The Magi Journeying

The Magi Journeying (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Christmas – we can look at this holiday in a couple of ways; the secular, materialistic way that has become so prevalent and it seems so relevant in today’s American society, or on the path of which Christmas is based by its very spelling. The word Christ is very powerful, the basis of the Christian religion and the head of all who follow those principles. We misuse the name of Christ many times without giving it much thought, and we misuse the meaning of the holiday (really, holy day) when we go off the mark of what it really means.To some the “holidays”, from Thanksgiving to Christmas, seem to herald the time of breaking out the sales circulars, the decorations, the ads at the grocery stores, department stores, big box stores, any kind of commercial exchange venue.

We want to imitate the first bearers of the gifts that were given to the baby Jesus (later that head of all Christians), the wise men/ magi/ kings who made an amazing journey to see that young child who would be king. But we go to excess in the way we struggle to find “the right thing”, or get just the right wrapping paper, or find the right card, or be seen at the right store at just the time of day when “all our friends” will be there and know we are showing off our status and our wish to pick over the shelves to get that item before anyone else does… even to the point of losing friends.Let us take a closer look at that special event in history, an event that is painted, talked about, re-enacted every year as it has been for centuries in Christmas stories all over the world. There is more to this story than meets the eye of the artist, the bard, or the poet. In this is something for everyone.

THE GIFTS OF THE MAGI

The journey of these three wise men, sage kings as recorded in the many works about them, began perhaps two years earlier. According to them, a star was seen in the east and they followed it in order to worship him whom it symbolized. In the Book of Matthew, in chapter 2, the details are brief but enough to give us  knowledge that something special had happened and those men had set out to find out exactly what was going on. In the lore, the star meant that someone of importance, a governor, a king, had been born, and they were come to worship. They gathered their provisions and personnel and set out.

The paintings record this small group as a diverse gathering of rulers, with the time and wealth to make such a journey. Their lands must have been at peace in order for them to leave those lands and make their way to Jerusalem in order to recognize another king, and a baby at that, but then rulers in the Bible were very young times, and there is a fine painting of a maharajah, part of the exhibit at the Field Museum, when Raj Singh was only eleven. No matter who they were or what they looked like, theirs was a common mission and their goal was to find the new king. Through obstacles, harsh conditions, and maybe with some doubt in their minds, they made the journey and found the Child.

What they followed has been described many ways, as a comet, a conjunction, a supernova, and maybe even by some as a gamma ray burst (now that would really have been something to see the light of, as they are extremely energetic and that energy must travel billions of light years). For a light to last two years the event would have to be a very powerful burst of light indeed. Whatever it was, the kings followed it diligently until they came to the place over which the star paused and the light shone upon it. At that time, with reverence and dignity, the kings, surely tired from their travels, presented their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, no doubt in containers as precious as their contents.

Gold of course is well -known in its symbolism, for its purity, brilliance, endurance and many uses. It probably was the element used in the containers for all the gifts. Frankincense is a precious, fragrant gum resin from a tree known for its healing purposes and use in rituals. Myrrh is an oleoresin, an expensive spice, with uses in perfume, used also in preparation for burials in the times of Jesus. The benefits of all three of these gifts were well known, for medicinal and healing properties, to reduce swelling and inflammation and the like. Either these kings already knew of the benefits of these gifts or they were very well advised by their courtiers as to what might be suitable for gifts. They listened to the right people, and now their intelligence is rooted in history.

c. 1432-1436
c. 1432-1436 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What they carried with them was wisdom. They prepared carefully for that long journey. Being kings they were surely greatly guarded and appointed as kings should be. They were true to the traditions of their ancestors and their sages, who studied deeply the ancient texts to ascertain this event. They prepared carefully for this event by gathering the facts, preparing provisions, making sure the quality of their gifts, making ready their travling parties, and their animals, and setting out. Being such a long journey they had to be careful in their way so that they would make it safely and carry out their mission.Now perhaps you could see a king dressed in the manner they are accustomed to when in their native lands, maybe in dark, rich, jeweled robes and turbans and golden headdresses, maybe in garments wrapped around and fastened with brooches and pins fine with jewels and metals, maybe a combination of these regalia. But these would not be practical for a long, dusty, difficult journey over hills, deserts, river passes and mountains. And not wanting to attract too much of the wrong attention, they probably dressed rather plainly, with nothing overly glittering or heavy to burden them or their beasts of burden.

Wearing a crown means something special. A crown is a symbol of great authority, worn only by a select few in positions of amazing and incredible power. Crowns are made so that the wearer stands out; the turban ornaments worn by the maharajahs of India were meant to do the same thing, sparkle and move and shimmer so that the wearer would be known for his authority and the right to mete out power, delegation, and dicates. In the ancient lore of some religious traditions, the crown chakra is where the higher powers of the intellect reside and from which these powers spring to light the world and all who know the bearers of these faculties, brilliant facets, and wondrous principles of learning and achievement.

One of these kings may well have been from the region of the world we now know as India, but the point is that three powerful men came together for this wondrous journey to find another king and give him adoration and royal presents, the best they had to offer. Paintings show them in deep and humble admiration of the newborn king as he is held or is in the manger in the presence of his parents, Mary and Joseph, as they open their gifts. The area must have been filled with sparkle and light, and with a fragrance almost overwhemling, as of an Old Testament temple during times of high worship on special occasions.

It is truly a great moment in world history, something everyone can appreciate for the qualities that go way beyond the event itself.

English: Adoration of the Wise Men by Murillo

English: Adoration of the Wise Men by Murillo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

RESOURCES CITED1. King James Bible online. http://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org/Matthew-Chapter-2/.2. A Modern Herbal: Frankincense.  http://botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/f/franki31.html.

3. Why Did the Magy Bring Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh? Online article at http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/people-cultures-in-the-bible/jesus-historical-jesus/why-did-the-magi-bring-gold-frankincense-and-myrrh/.

4. What is Myrrh? http://christianity.about.com/od/glossary/a/Myrrh.htm.

** Something to do: See the Splendor of the Maharajahs at the Field Museum in Chicago. Having done so I can assure you it will leave you dazzled and speechless.

Divi Logan, Nashville and Chicago, 2012.

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