[The following column was printed in The Forum newspaper, on Dec.7, 2013. Reprinted with permission.]
Living Faith: Sacred simplicity helps defeat Grinch
By Roxane B. Salonen
Christmas, or at least what’s become of it in recent years, can have this effect.
Like the most ardent atheist and others of various religious persuasions, I am unimpressed by the excessive glitz and consumerism of the season. “Enough!” I want to rise up and shout.
At its origins, Christmas is a beautiful thing to behold, but the whole thing has gone awry. The Grinch has not only stolen Christmas but managed to mesmerize us with a twisted presentation of the holiday.
True to his green nature, and with sneering eyes, the Grinch reflects unbound envy and an insatiable lust for the almighty dollar. Claiming Black Friday as his holiday, he is everywhere that day, breathing deceit into the ears of the vulnerable.
“This will make you happy,” he hisses. “And you can’t do without this,” he says, his lips curled into a permanent smirk.
He’s stolen something precious from the faithful, and for our part, we’ve not only let him get away with it but at times participated in his antics.
I don’t believe we purposefully set out to embrace his vile ways, however. Mr. Grinch simply snuck in while we were sipping eggnog one fine winter and never left.
But here’s where I differ from the non-believer, who points to the furry, green man and says, “See, this is what faith gets you. What use is it to us?”
“You’re right,” I respond to the latter. “This version of faith is useless. On this, we agree.” But there’s another version of the Christmas story, and it’s worth renewing and reclaiming.
Though real in his own way, the Grinch is also a ruse, distracting us from the beautiful truths of this season. For me, it begins in the space where our senses can most assuredly be awakened to the goodness of Christmas.
During the Advent season at my home parish, I find not excessive shimmer but a simple wreath. On it, four candles represent a countdown to one of the most profound moments in history.
Here, I breathe in rejuvenating silence. Within this calming refuge, the lure of the Grinch fades, and in his place I see a stark stable, wooden manger and star-lit night when the world grew quiet and reflective for a while.
Soon, evergreen trees will spring upon the altar, not bedecked with tantalizing tinsel but tiny, flickering lights that echo the day love broke through the world in the faint wailing of an infant.
As incense rises and bells ring, I’ll pause long enough to center my soul, sending the Grinch to do his bidding away from my heart. Donning mercy and love, I’ll face the trappings of the counter-Christmas conspiracy with a revised, contrary plan.
It will be one of sacred simplicity, as it was intended all along, begetting a heart prone toward generosity, not just one day but the whole year through.
Christmas isn’t what’s wrong. The message of hope it bears in its purest form can be appreciated by all. What’s wrong is how we’ve allowed the cackling green creature to seize what is truly enduring and meaningful by bowing to the material.
It’s not too late to ponder in our hearts how we might rediscover the beautiful barrenness of this time. With a few adjustments, we can approach this season sanely and not be left singing the Christmas Blues come Dec. 26.
The Grinch has made gains, but somewhere in his dark world a light flickers, and neither he nor we are beyond letting it beckon to and change us for the better.