A Celebration of the Body

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“Rome was a flea market of borrowed gods and conquered peoples, a bargain basement on two floors, earth and heaven, a mass of filth convoluted in a triple knot as in an intestinal obstruction. Dacians, Herulians, Scythians, Sarmatians, Hyperboreans, heavy wheels without spokes, eyes sunk in fat, sodomy, double chins, illiterate emperors, fish fed on the flesh of learned slaves. There were more people in the world than there have ever been since, all crammed into the passages of the Coliseum, and all wretched. And then, into this tasteless heap of gold and marble, He came, light and clothed in an aura, emphatically human, deliberately provincial, Galilean, and at that moment gods and nations ceased to be and man came into being – man the carpenter, man the plowman, man the shepherd with his flock of sheep at sunset, man who does not sound in the least proud, man thankfully celebrated in all the cradle songs of mothers and in all the picture galleries the world over.” – Boris Pasternak

Merry Christmas! Today is a special day: a day where thousands of yards of wrapping paper gives up its life and beauty to the tearing hands of children; a day where unable-to-cope family members lose themselves in their poison of choice; a day when consumerism is celebrated throughout the western world in a gorging upon new gadgets, tools, toys, clothes and other necessities. I am sounding cynical, and I don’t want to sound or to be that. I am only saddened by these facts, because of what Christmas started out as and what it could be again: a deep, human celebration of being human, of our limited lives and of our bodies and of moral courage in the face of oppression. Christmas was the story of liberation, and I want it to be again.

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The Gift of Peace: Christmas and the End of War

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“This is a war universe. War all the time. That is its nature. There may be other universes based on all sorts of other principles, but ours seems to be based on war and games. All games are basically hostile. Winners and losers. We see them all around us: the winners and the losers. The losers can oftentimes become winners, and the winners can very easily become losers.” — William S Burroughs

 

War is not a gift. War does not make great men, nor does it make humanity great. War is destruction, and there is no glory in it. In the most just cases, it is unfortunate necessity, a lose-lose situation. War is not a game. War is not fun. War will end.

 

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The Gift of Hope

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“The nuns taught us there are two ways through life … the way of Nature… and the way of Grace. You have to choose which one you’ll follow. Grace doesn’t try to please itself. Accepts being slighted, forgotten, disliked. Accepts insults and injuries. Nature only wants to please itself. Get others to please it too. Likes to lord it over them. To have its own way. It finds reasons to be unhappy… when all the world is shining around it… when love is smiling through all things. They taught us that no one who loves the way of grace… ever comes to a bad end. I will be true to you. Whatever comes.” — Mrs. Obrien in The Tree of Life

Does the world have hope? And how do we see it? To paraphrase the above quotation, which is itself a paraphrase of a quotation from Leibniz, there are two ways through life: the way of entropy and the way of hope. I use the word entropy because it captures the cosmic scale of how the way of nature plays out. Everything moves to dissipation, heat-death and ultimate darkness. But that is merely one way. There is another.

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The Gift of Laughter and Tears

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“Why do we laugh? Because it is a gravely religious matter: it is the Fall of Man. Only man can be absurd: for only man can be dignified.” — GK Chesterton

What are the greatest human emotions? Perhaps that question is far too broad. But I think that the answer is not too broad: joy and sorrow, often expressed in laughter and tears. These emotions are so completely demanding that our whole body must respond — the hearty laughter that rocks your whole body and the tears that flow interminably. Such expressions depart from any Stoic philosophy, and they are utterly human and are gifts in our humanity.

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The Gift of Memory

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“Memory can change the shape of a room; it can change the color of a car. And memories can be distorted. They’re just an interpretation, they’re not a record, and they’re irrelevant if you have the facts.” — Leonard Shelby, “Memento”

There is nothing outside the text! Thus rings the cry of deconstructionists everywhere. What it means is this: there is nothing outside of context, there is nothing outside of its place, however tangentially connected it might be; there is nothing outside of memory. If you’ve ever seen the movie Memento, you have encountered the questionability of memory, and despite Leonard’s best efforts to concretise his memories into “facts,” everything remains an interpretation: there is no brute foundation or secure grounding. He lives in and among the texts he has written and interpreted. We do the same.

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The Gift of Time

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“What then is time? If no one asks me, I know: if I wish to explain it to one that asks, I know not.” — St Augustine

Between now and Christmas, I am writing about different kinds of gifts. For today, it is the gift of time. In today’s world that is driven by the atomic clock and by the mathematization of time, we do not often view as a gift. It is at most a resource to be spent either wisely or foolishly, or it can be seen as a predator, stalking its prey — akin to death. I want to pull the rug out from under these interpretations. We cannot spend time, because we have not earned it. And time cannot be a predator against us, because it is the water in which we swim and live and move. We ourselves are little upsurges in time that give the world its meaning. Time, our time, is a gift.

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Gratitude and the Shape of a Worldview

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It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. — Abraham Lincoln, “Thanksgiving Proclamation,” 1863

Today is a great day. In the land of my forefathers, today is a day of gratitude, thanksgiving, and all sorts of food. Today is a day where families gather, good food is prepared communally, served, and eaten together. Around a common table, people will often express in words things they are grateful for. In that regard, it is a special day, but it is a practice we could and perhaps should do regularly.

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