Each week, in our Open Windows interfaith blog, we feature a quote from sacred scripture and inspired thought from around the world and reflect on its meaning. This week, the selection is from Jainism. Surprisingly to me, it reflects on the sacred symbology of the Christmas story.
May the Lord of Lords, Mahavira, whom all the hosts of saints keep in mind, all the rulers of men and angels praise, and all the scriptures—Vedas, Puranas, and Sastras—extol, make my heart his abode.
May the Lord of Lords, who cuts asunder the net of worldly afflictions and sorrows, perceives the innermost secrets of the universe, and is the pure introvert Self capable of being visualized by the yogins, reside in my heart. —Samayika Patha
Hearing these words, do they sound familiar? Do they remind you of anything from the Christmas story?
Here is another depiction of this ultimate Being honored in Jainism, from the Bhagavad Gita. These are the words of Krishna:
Gaze, then, thou Son of Pritha! I manifest for thee
Those hundred thousand thousand shapes that clothe my Mystery:
I show thee all my semblances, infinite, rich, divine,
My changeful hues, my countless forms. See! in this face divine…. (TSS 2:7, “God Almighty”)
And this is from Judaism, put forward as one of the thirteen principles of the Jewish faith:
I believe by complete faith in the coming of the Messiah, and even though he tarry in waiting, in spite of that, I will still wait expectantly for him each day that he will come.
And now to the Christmas story. These words are familiar from Handel’s Messiah. They come from the chorus “For Unto Us a Child Is Born.” They are from the Book of Isaiah:
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)
The Christmas story’s sacred symbology tells of this most loved, most treasured Being in all the heaven coming to earth. Is that not the story? The Lord of Lords and King of Kings, the one most loved, most adored, is born. As it is portrayed, he is a gift of the heavens, coming to earth. And as the Christmas carol says, we earthlings are invited to adore him.
We have this golden opportunity, even in the story of his coming, to touch the Christ spirit, this highest love which he, by his very nature, embodied.
In Isaiah’s words, “the government shall be upon his shoulders.” I was reflecting on the nature of that government. It is not a government of laws or edicts, or some kind of extraordinary heavenly power.
The kind of government Isaiah proclaims is the very highest form of government. We could express it simply in these words: Because we love him. I do believe that that’s how it is for the angels of heaven. The government of love is in place ultimately not because he commands, not because he forces, not because he uses some form of unusual heavenly power. It is in place simply because all Being loves this One. And so is the nature of the highest form of government. All of Being and all of Creation responds to what is most essential to it.
Leaving aside whatever beliefs and whatever corruption there has been around the world, not only in the Christian faith but in many faiths—corruption around the very idea of a heavenly lord—perhaps today we see past any limitations. We let go of any human failure to acknowledge this reality, and that too is part of the Christmas story. But then there has also been the failure of trying to own his nobility and royalty for oneself, and the attempt to use it to dominate, to make oneself good and others bad, to make oneself right and others wrong and sinful. We move past all those human tendencies to see through the open window that the traditions of the world bring to the very heart of humankind, which is filled with love for a reality that we hardly know but which, strangely, erupts every Christmastime.
We see past the outer trappings of religious tradition and sacred scripture, to the very heart of human beings and the very essence of Reality. We sense that there is a beauty at the very heart of who and what we are as beings on this planet. That beauty is shared amongst us all and is true of us all. But can we deny the supreme love that in worldly terms we might speak of as our King, our Lord, and our Beloved?
When we admit this highest of loves, at the same time we are instantly admitting and confessing our love for one another. It’s amazing how that happens.
In the story, human beings stared that highest love right in the face and did not see it. One could hardly believe that such a thing could happen. And yet, it happens every day in the world in which we live. The human heart has become hardened enough that what we know deep in our heart of hearts is often not known in the everyday heart of people as they look into each other’s eyes.
That denial can become an active putdown of one another—a shaming. There are many flavors of human shame. People are shamed for being not smart enough, not pretty enough, not handsome enough, not strong enough, not courageous enough, not persistent enough, and not liked enough. But perhaps the greatest shame that is levied upon another person has to do with character—that another is essentially of bad character, and perhaps even sinful or corrupt. And so, in the world in which we live, human beings deal in such things. This goes beyond the simple recognition of what’s happening for another person, to an imputing of something wrong at the very heart and soul of another. It becomes a denial of the divine origin of all people.
And so, in this Christmastime, we are called upon by the Christmas story to acknowledge, at least for this one man, that he was of divine origin and that he came to embody the highest love; that he came to bring a gift from the angels into the world. And perhaps, in this Christmastime, if the human heart can make that one acknowledgment of that one man, then perhaps we could make that same acknowledgment of another—of a woman, of a man, and another woman, and another man, and another, another and another. That was his gift, if it would be received: that in acknowledging him we would acknowledge each other, and in acknowledging each other we would know ourselves as we are.
Several years back, somebody made a public comment. They had been associated with Emissaries of Divine Light years ago and played an important role. They said that since Martin Cecil’s passing in 1988, there wasn’t the same sense of nobility and royalty that they had felt previously within this spiritual community. The reality is that Martin was literally an English noble. He was the Marquess of Exeter, Lord Exeter. But for any who knew him, his noble stature towered over any earthly status. He brought a nobility of character, ultimately the nobility of love itself. And it’s easy to see how, having lost somebody like that, one could feel that loss—the loss of nobility personified, just as we might feel loss because the one who incarnated as Jesus was in the flesh for only thirty-three short years.
So what is our answer to the loss of nobility, however it might be perceived, whether from Martin’s passing or for any other reason? Perhaps even the loss of the sense of nobility from having such an undignified president of the United States of America. What is our answer? To bemoan that loss? To impugn the character of another? Or to dismiss the presence of dignity and honor, and nobility of spirit, wherever it may appear? Or to fail to bring that dignity, honor and nobility oneself?
What is our answer? To be so true to what we love that we embody it ourselves. If you love that reality in another, or even if you love the memory of it as it’s come down to us in the stories of Christmas, it is not an act of arrogance or ambition to express it. It is an act of humility, service, and ultimately of love to share what one knows of that same nobility oneself, as best one might.
And so, on this day following Christmas, as I look at the people of my world, I see kings. I see queens. I see nobility. I see the highest love. I see the ennobling of human character by the reality of the Divine.
It is not that I see humanly perfect people. Is anybody willing to claim that for themselves? This isn’t a claim of human perfection. It is a confession of who made us and where we came from. And if that One who we celebrate at Christmas was precious to all the angels of heaven, you are precious to all the angels of heaven. They sent you. And how dare anyone not see it of you? And how dare you try to contradict it?
We are not here to put on airs or to try to be something we are not. I’m certainly not. We are here to be humble enough to allow what is true of us to shine through; to be transparent enough to allow that reality to express itself. And in so doing, we undo that all-too-common human shame and shaming that has to do with character and origin.
Here we are, in this Christmastime, to do something completely different: allow our shame and our shaming to be left behind, that we might step into our nobility as we see and acknowledge the nobility of others. When you see it, what you know is that what was true of the One we speak of as Jesus is true of each one, whether that person knows it or not. How dare we defy what the angels know?