Saturday, December 29, 2007

The more you know.

Pssst! I learned some top-secret information about Santa that I think might
serve you well in advance of next Christmas. Hearken, I prithee.

It came to my attention, while attending a recent performance of Benjamin Britten's Saint Nicholas cantata, that our favorite saint is not only a jolly old soul, but that he can resurrect people. Yesireebob! And not just freshly dead people -- people who've been hacked to bits, pickled in brine, and served to unsuspecting pilgrims. It would seem that he was trying to one-up Jesus's remarkable Lazarus miracle.* Cocky fella, that Saint Nick.

So anyway, let this serve as an early warning that if you're veeery good kidlets every last day of 2008 -- if you wash behind you ears and eat your lima beans and call your mother -- you need not hesitate to put Great-great-grandpa Horace at the top of your Christmas list. Or your flat kitty friend buried in the backyard. Or even Elvis.

Go on -- let those sugarplum visions run wild! The ol' boy can deliver!

* Our judges give S.N. a 8.9 on the Wow! factor, but a mere 1.3 on the Inspires-Reverence-Rather-Than-Giggles factor.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Enough, and to spare.

When I was in high school, two of my non-Christian friends went in together and in lieu of a Christmas present, donated money to a charity in my honor. The surprising thing wasn't how moved I was -- it was a thoughtful thing for them to do -- but rather the realization that none of my overtly Christian friends or family had ever done that for me and that I had never done it for anyone else. I mean, I'd given to charities on occasion, and I know that most other people do as well, but I'd never given to a charity in place of a regular gift, nor asked others to do that for me. Reading and re-reading the card from those two friends gave me a feeling that is often elusive amid all the fa la las -- that my mere existence on the planet had made some positive difference in the life of a person who truly needed it. It was great.

I love to see my little niece smile when she opens her toys (though she most often prefers the ribbons to the toys), and I love to see my mom get the warm gloves she needs for her commute to work. Heck -- I even love to see Dad parade around in his new parrot slippers that I know he'll rarely wear again, except as a joke. If I get the Jeeves and Wooster series on DVD,* I will hug it and kiss it and sleep with it under my pillow and there is no chance in h--- that I will run out and donate it to the local orphanage in a bid for sainthood. But if instead someone gave to charity what they could have spent on Jeeves, I will still live in a warm apartment with clean running water and a comfy bed. I will still have more delicious food than is healthy for me to eat, more DVDs than I can watch, more CDs than I have space for, more books than I have time to read, a car that runs, money for the bus if the car stops running, and enough scented lotions to supply an army of teen girls for a good decade. My greatest trial will still be learning to be moderate and wise when all around me is abundance and overabundance. And I will feel all glowy and gooey and warmy and fuzzy. Maybe even a little fizzy. With a cherry on top.

In the delightfulest [insert additional superlatives here] Christmas movie, Millions, the little protagonist receives regular visits from sundry Catholic saints (who turn out to be much funnier than you might expect). He is saddened to learn that the bag of money that literally fell on him from the sky was not sent by God so he could help the poor, but had been thrown off a train by bank robbers. When Saint Peter appears in his bedroom, the boy asks him if he can still use the money to help the poor even thought it isn't from God. Saint Peter answers indirectly by offering him the "real" story of the miraculous feeding of the 5,000: Jesus is offered a few fishes and a little bread by a small boy, and Jesus blesses them and hands them around to the crowd. However, as it turns out, the crowd wasn't really starving -- almost all of them had food hidden in their pockets, but had pretended they didn't have it so they wouldn't have to share with any of their less fortunate neighbors. But when they see the little boy offer his own food to them, their hearts are softened. When the basket of bread and fishes comes to them, they pretend to take some of the boy's food, but instead just take out their own food and begin to share with their neighbors so that everyone is fed and the basked remains full. And that, says Saint Peter, is how the miracle of the loaves and fishes was accomplished.

I believe that Jesus was more than just a pretty idea or an inspiring teacher. But the miracle could have happened that way, and in a way it would have been an even bigger miracle. A miracle that changes hearts is no small miracle, no matter how it's done.

I hope I will allow my heart to be changed in that way, for good, and even when I'm down on my luck. Not just because it's what I'm supposed to want at my most righteous millisecond in the midst of Christmastime charity fervor, but also because to be comfortable and healthy and safe and educated and still have a lot left over to help others is a luxury very very few in this world have. A luxury that feels as good as any other luxury there is.**

And I am a creature of luxury. Ooooh, yes.

Jeeves -- draw me my bath. With bubbles, please.

*No, this is NOT a hint, Dad. Really. I've seen them all like five times -- why would I need to own them? A framed portrait of Hugh and Stephen will do nicely.

**Including chocolate.