Talk by Tom Baker
December 22, 2013, The Fellowship of the Inner Light
Much of what is going on in the stores and shopping malls these last days of Advent looks like chaos. Often grim people searching for the elusive perfect gift that will be a sign to the dear ones that they are loved. But the search doesn't take the form of a loving search, more a desperate, irritating panic attack brought on by a primitive thought that there is not enough money or love or affection to go around. The desperation of the search assumes that the season will come and go with no one feeling any more loved than usual and that all the gifts carefully wrapped and put under the tree in 2013 will be a part of a yard sale in 2016. Yet as everyone reminds each other, it’s the thought that counts. And of course, the thought is usually some notion of love, however mangled. I saw a woman in a department store who said to her daughter, "If you start in on me I hit you with this bag of batteries." The girl looked back at her with revenge in her eyes. Later I saw them out in the parking lot picking out a Christmas tree. They were both laughing. They finally got to love, it was just the 17th thing on the list.
When I first met Kathy I was getting out of the priesthood. I fancied myself to be a kind of priestly Mr. Rogers. In fact I believe that Fred Rogers may have been a Christ-like ascended master. But I thought I was pretty much like Mr. Rogers. As the ascended master in love, I told Kathy earnestly that I thought she was something special and that I loved her just the way she was. She smiled back and said, "me too." When we got married, for our first Christmas I got her a sewing machine. For her birthday I had gotten her a washing machine. Along with the sewing machine I gave her a cookbook and a pair of work gloves. As she opened her gifts she got quieter and quieter until finally she locked me in with the stare of her ice blue eyes. She asked: "Why did you get me these things?" Being Mr. Rogers-like I told her "I like you just the way you are. When a woman gets married she starts to want to sew and cook and clean the house. This Christmas is the beginning of our domestic bliss." She barely waited for me to finish when she said, "Well Fr. Tom I guess you want 13 children and dinner every Sunday after church." I thought I had gone to heaven. I said, "As a matter of fact that would be nice." Then she sat quietly, thinking. Finally she spoke: "You didn’t marry me. You married your Catholic vision of a wife. I'm not her. I don't like to cook or sew and I imagined we would clean the house together. I run marathons, I’m going back to school, and I will work with children but not have any of my own. It’s about time you met me Mr. Baker. Now love me for who I am and I will do the same for you." That was the Christmas that I took back most of the gifts and we celebrated the deep simplicity of love by spending the whole of Christmas day with one another in our pajamas snuggling and reading: deep and simple. That first Christmas was the beginning of marital bliss. Instead of imitating Mr. Rogers I began to live by his example. And I began to take Alan Steele seriously who told me that he thought I left the priesthood and married the Holy Spirit.
That’s how I learned to love my wife at Christmas. Love the person not the dream or vision of the person. We haven’t had a bad Christmas since. But loving Jesus at Christmas. What about that?
When the magi and the shepherds and the inn keeper and his daughter came to see Jesus they had one question on their minds: How do I love him? In Jesus Christ Super Star Mary Magdaline plaintively sings: I don’t know how to love him. Why not bring that question to everyone in the world this Christmas? How do I love them? At Nelson Mandella’s funeral a schizophrenic man posed as a signer for the deaf and signed nonsense. Many people allowed themselves to become offended. Folks were up in arms over what this mentally ill man did. The media was extremely critical, as the man was essentially made fun of and trashed. And this in the season of Christmas! What if the media had asked the question the wise men and Mary Magdaline had asked of Jesus: How can we love him? How can we love our confused brother? How can we bring divine love to reside in the heart of our dear one? What if those loving words had been the headlines? Man Confused and Calls for Love. How can we love him? A week or so before the Mandella funeral Pope Francis hugged and kissed and blessed a man horribly disfigured with tumors. The deep and simple heart of the world stopped, watching almost in shock as the supreme pastor of all Catholics stooped to kiss an outcast and bring him into the circle of our compassion. Pope Francis answered the question How do I love him? with a kiss and an embrace. Time Magazine made him person of the year. Mr. Rogers said that everyone should have special people who love them into being. The pope loved that man into being. How will you love the child or the boss or the spouse or the neighbor or yourself in the manger? I have A Course In Miracles class on Sunday afternoons. Every week about 25 of us gather to learn how to love one another. It’s like a little hour and a half of Christmas each week. The Course says that we have graduated from the Course when we stop attacking and judging in our thoughts and see the Face of Christ in everyone. That has started to happen for me at that Course and here at the Fellowship. I see the eyes giving love or calling for love. Between each other where fear has resided for so long there appears a sparkling space where love is suddenly the only thing that can happen.
The Christmas spirit puts love first. The spirit of the world puts fear first. For a few weeks we are infused with the Christmas spirit and we put love first and let fear be last — we speak to more people, we take a little more time with them, we wish them well — in little ways we love them into being. It takes a very different way of thinking and feeling to put love first. It’s hard. But it may just be habit that puts fear first. What if it is our natural way to love someone before we think to fear or judge them, to lift someone up rather than criticize them, to kiss them rather than hit them with a bag of batteries. While Christmas may seem an exceptional time it may be the occasion for our hearts to discover that love is our first and true master.
© Copyright Tom Baker 2013