What little warmth the sun afforded on this short winter day evaporates as it reaches the treetops. Sitting under the dying sycamore tree, sparrows and juncos come close as a meditative state begins.
Memory and association yield to awareness and attention. In the stillness and emptying of thought, there is a love for the earth and everything on it, even man.
The great bifurcated sycamore that I've taken many meditations under for 15 years is nearly dead now. After the fire that swept over the fields and jumped the creek a decade ago, it lost branches and limbs one by one, like a leper from the Dark Ages.
You can't help but feel the parallel with the earth's denudation at the hands of man. Except for a few common birds, all the animals that were here ten years ago are gone.
The long-eared rabbits were the first to go, followed by coyote, then rattlesnakes (which I encountered without incident, as they give you fair warning). Then the pheasant disappeared, and finally, most recently, as 'development' has gone into high gear in the fields, one of the most beautiful birds in nature, the slender, graceful kite falcon.
Many times one would appear at a moment of despair, lifting the eyes and spirit as the fittingly named kite fluttered in place for half a minute or more, scanning the ground for prey. Then, wings tucked back, the gentle falcon parachuted more than plummeted to the ground.
Only the most deadened heart couldn't be deeply moved by the sight, and I would sometimes point them out to junior high school kids on their way home.
Our relationship, or lack of relationship, with nature is the existential ground of our existence. It defines our relationship with human beings, not the other way around.
The sycamore was once the stateliest tree I've ever seen besides the massive oaks that are native to this area. Except the giant or coastal redwoods of course, which are to trees as whales are to porpoises.
Inverted Christmas trees are the latest thing this season, when everything has been turned upside down. America's last true religion, shopping, is significantly up this year, in a futile attempt to compensate for the pervasive gloom.
You'll know things have actually begun to change in what one New York Times pundit called "just a squalid, oversized, greedy place past the zenith of its greatness," when consumerism no longer reigns supreme at Christmas.
America is an experiment in the limits of materialism. And consumerism, despite what we like to tell ourselves about being a religious people, is the only tradition left. The national news in the past couple of weeks actually contained embedded ads for specific items on sale in the big chains, with the blatant message, 'hurryup and buy buy buy!'
Having a sybarite as president with a base of Christian evangelicals is no contradiction; it's the logical conclusion of what passes for religiosity in the United States.
Right side up or upside down, Christmas trees have nothing to do with Jesus' birth, just as the celebration of Jesus' birth has nothing to do with his life and death.
Jesus represents the ultimate catch-22. His mission failed because the Jews of his time turned against him. (Which isn't the same as 'the Jews killed Jesus' trope.) And having turned against him, Jews in the generations that followed declared he was not the messiah.
As far as Christians go, they believe Jesus signaled the fulfillment of the prophecy by riding a donkey into the city. Then, when his mission failed, Christians made his crucifixion the cornerstone of their spinoff from Judaism, declaring that he was sent and meant to "die for our sins" all along.
What we really celebrate at Christmas is innocence, within our children and perhaps ourselves, in a world that has not essentially changed in over 2000 years.
Deadness of spirit is the ultimate goal of darkness, and evil is but a means to that end. And many hearts have succumbed. Therefore rather than the superficial "resistance," the greatest act of revolt is to remain inwardly alive.
In the growing darkness, keep a candle lit in your heart, guard it with your life. I for one would rather die than let it be snuffed out.
Bach, Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring, ~6 min:
Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He welcomes dialogue. firstname.lastname@example.org
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