avatar

“Where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.” – Matthew 18:20

I have always loved this particular passage from the Bible, because it speaks to the accessibility of Spirit and also the innate power of community. During the Christmas Season these words have particular resonance for me. The holidays are a time of gathering. Extended families come together to share meals, co-workers and their loved ones mingle at holiday parties, and communities of faith join in celebration of their shared values.

As I wrote in my most recent post, Spirit is in the air during this time of year. I examined some of the ways I experience that spirit and try to share it with others. This week I want to reflect on the power of that spirit not only in our one-on-one interactions, but in our larger communities.

Gathering

The passage from Matthew tells us that there is something sacred in coming together with a shared purpose. Whether we’re celebrating our faith or just enjoying one another’s presence in our lives, we are engaging with Spirit in a powerful way. As long as we stay conscious of the time we are spending together and don’t take it for granted, we feed that Spirit and deepen it through the new memories we make and the meaningful interactions we have.

The holidays also present challenges to this Spirit. With so much to do and so many people to see, it can be easy to lose sight of the value of these interactions, to consider them obligations rather than opportunities. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves to slow down and enjoy the gift of the present moment together. I encourage you to join me in being mindful this holiday season and seeking meaningful interactions.

It was a tradition in my family for many many years to celebrate a home mass for Christmas. A beloved uncle of mine, a Jesuit, would give a mass in the living room of my aunts home, with the extended family filling every available chair and space on the floor. We no longer have these people with us, but we keep the tradition alive by gathering for a family prayer. More than the giving of gifts or sharing of meals, these moments of intentional connection as we join hands and give thanks are the real high point of the holidays for me.

Giving

Another family tradition that is due for a revival is giving back during the holidays. My late mother was a dedicated social justice and peace activist and very involved in service to the community. The whole family would spend an evening or two at a soup kitchen serving meals, clearing tables, and sharing the holiday spirit with those we met. It was a great reminder of the real spirit of the season, and enjoyable for all.

The holidays are also a great time for charitable giving. Whether it’s toys or clothing for the amazing kids at Operation Breakthrough, diapers for low-income families through HappyBottoms, or coats and blankets for the homeless through reStart, your generosity is especially appreciated at this time of year. There are so many organizations doing good in Kansas City, and our support can make the season brighter for the less fortunate.

Gratitude

Thanksgiving may be behind us, but that doesn’t mean we should be done giving thanks. There is so much to be thankful for during the holidays – family, friends, co-workers, spiritual support – and I have found that gratitude is a major key to seeing the Spirit in those around me. Cultivating a practice of gratitude helps me make the most of all the opportunities for witnessing the spirit around me during this time. With gratitude comes joy and peace, and a greater connectedness with our family and community.

Research has clearly indicated that people who express gratitude are 25% happier than those who don’t. In our entitled society we might dismiss this finding in search of our “right” to be wealthy, well-fed, or satiated on all levels. Entitlement is the antithesis of gratefulness. Unfortunately, my very use of the word “entitlement” generally connotes those who are less fortunate seeking a “hand-out.” But my use of the word is simply to reveal our expectation, whether of a stock market that regularly rewards us, a tax write-off that mobilizes our investment, or our “inalienable right” to possess guns (which perpetrate fear in place of gratefulness and acceptance).

Gratitude exists in a paradigm of abundance, whereas Greed and Entitlement come from a worldview based on scarcity. That is, when we feel that there is not enough to go around, we are tempted to react out of self-preservation and see other people as objects or obstacles to our own happiness. Gratitude, by contrast, comes from a place of plenty and allows us to turn outward and see the humanity of others.

A recent article in the Huffington Post offers some good tips for practicing gratitude. Like anything else, it is something that requires practice. What better time than the holidays to start?

I wish you a Merry Christmas, a Happy New Year, and a life filled with Gratitude and Spirit!