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  • Writer's pictureDoug Weiss

The Spirit


From the outset let me make one thing clear, this is not a post about Christmas, past, present or future. Dickens covered that quite well, I think. But I did want to talk about spirits, after a fashion as we approach the date we celebrate the birth of the infant Jesus. Please note, I did not say the day he was born, as that is in some debate, but it is the day that people around the world, many of them of faiths other than Christianity, pause to reflect on values such as family, friendship, and most of all peace.

Other faiths have important days too, when they atone for misdeeds, ask for peace, or celebrate their kinship, among other things. There is something about days like this. If you listen and watch carefully, you may notice that there is a palpable sense of something not quite of this world that is in the air. Maybe it is the solemnity, the gathering, or the unity of purpose that grants such moments their gravitas. A lot of ink has been spent decrying the commercialization of Christmas, in particular. I am not going to add any more. For my part, I would forego the presents and the Egg Nog (to say nothing of the fruit cake) to spend more of my time and resource on what matters most to me, the spirit of the day. I am past the age where I need anything material—and while I would not deny a child the joy of opening presents the only thing I want to open is our hearts.

This is a day that can bring out the very best in people, encourage selfless acts of generosity and compassion and it is almost trite to suggest that many of us wish we could carry that spirit into the year ahead. Sadly, the convictions born on this day rarely sustain into the New Year. All that goodwill, kindness and empathy seems to melt away as we turn back to our day to day existence. I wish it were otherwise but I have no idea how to preserve that communion with our higher and nobler selves we experience this day.

When we pause like this and put aside our grievances, petty concerns and self-interested preoccupations it is as if we are momentarily possessed—not perhaps in the literal sense—but in a profound way aware of our relationships one to another, determined to do good, and act with charity and meaningful intent. The word spirit is often used to describe a force that is invisible yet at work in the world. We speak of good and malevolent spirits, of the spirit of giving or the spirit world. All these meanings for the word spirit convey something that exists just beyond our human perception. Something alive is at work in the world, something is at work in us but we cannot quite catch sight of it, we can only experience the impact it has on us, however briefly.

I am not sure that spirit even requires faith. It is in the acts of kindness, generosity and charity that we feel the spirit, not in our belief that a Christmas spirit exists. And perhaps that is what we should take away. By practicing the actions that we associate with this day, we feel the spirit that it symbolizes. If we practiced the actions of peace, generosity, charity and understanding of others is it possible we would feel the spirit that they endow? I wonder, to borrow a line from the cartoonist Walt Kelly, if we haven’t already met the spirit, and he is us.


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