Tag Archive | Christmas

About Gift-Giving

With due respect to St. Francis, who originated the Christmas crib,100_0359 for this blog I shall alter the final word in his famous quote, making it read: “Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use gifts.”

We are probably already thinking about holiday gifts to give and perhaps even how to wrap them. As we do this, let’s remember a few things that will help us select gifts that “preach the gospel”:

  • everything in creation has a sacred history dating back billions of years,
  • divine Love is living and acting in every bit of it, and
  • thoughtless consumption of Earth’s gifts endangers all of us who depend upon them for physical, psychological, and spiritual health.

Reflecting on our interconnected place in Earth’s story and the values of simplicity, love of nature, and sustainable living that are exemplified in the Gospel, we can move from a culture of Buy! Buy! Buy! to one of more thoughtful, gospel-based choices.

Some basic considerations:

handmade  soap bars with lavender flowers, shallow DOFAll gift-giving decisions inevitably affect God’s people and the rest of creation — for better or for worse. Here are some questions to consider when deciding what to give:

  • What resources are being consumed?
  • Who has made the product and in what working conditions?
  • Are endangered species or habitats threatened or benefited?
  • Does making or using this product add to climate change?
  • How does the store from which I buy treat its employees, and how does it care for the environment?

Suggestions for giving presents that “preach the gospel”: 

  • Give something previously used by you or another. Homemade-Christmas-Gifts-012“White elephant” gift exchanges can be great fun, and can be woven into group rituals that participants will joyfully anticipate each year. Thrift shops and thrift websites might have just what you’d like to give.
  • Give used books with an inscription of what the book meant to you and why you chose it for this recipient. These can be passed on repeatedly, gaining in meaning with each inscription. Alternately, purchase books from a local independent bookstore (if you are fortunate enough to have one). Magazine subscriptions to worth-while publications might also be appreciated.
  • HomemadeGifts_Labels Give something you’ve made: cookies, cards, clothes, scarves, art, poetry, music . . . . Or, you might buy things from friends or at craft fairs. Some parishes hold holiday sales that include work by local artists.
  • Give a gift of time. Especially older, handicapped, or very busy people imagesmight appreciate a service gift: a concert with an instrument you play well, an offer to help with a future party, a back rub, an offer to help with the computer, or a promise that the garbage will be regularly taken out! Perhaps a pack of “Just Ask” coupons. . . .
  • Give gifts to friends that also gift Earth: plants you have nurtured; organic, fair trade coffee, tea, or chocolate; glass water bottles that will replace plastic ones; CFL or LED light bulbs; art, music, videos that help others better appreciate divine life within creation; donations to Heifer International, Arbor Day Foundation, Rain Forest Rescue, or other organizations that help create sustainability and self-reliance. Items from Ten Thousand Villages won’t be cheap, but will assure you that people and planet have benefited from your purchase.
  • Give experiences: tickets to concerts, plays, classes, or other events the person would enjoy. If needed, include offer of transport.

Suggestions of what to avoid: 

(Note: These are ideals to work towards, not meant to incite guilt!)

  • PlasticBagInTreeByLauren Avoid buying — or putting products in — anything made of plastic! (Plastic particles form with other debris into large swirling glutinous accumulation zones that comprise as much as 40 percent of the planet’s ocean surface — roughly 25 percent of the entire earth!)
  • Avoid buying wrapping paper that came from non-sustainable sources. Stretch your creativity to find wrap/cloth and ribbon/string  that can be used again.
  • Avoid anything that will contribute to climate change by excessive fossil fuel use.

 Avoid anything that Anti-ivory trade demonstartion, London 13 Februarymight have come from endangered species or from trafficked laborers.

One More Thing

However you celebrate the Incarnation in the Christmas story, remember also to celebrate the indwelling of Divine Love from the very beginning of the Cosmos. Many books, both for children and adults, tell the Universe Story in a way that makes clear to believers that, as Thomas Berry has written, these “are two aspects of a single wisdom … integral parts of a single story.”

images-1Berry continues with insights relevant to our need to reduce consumerism and planet destruction: “What is happening in our times is not just another historical transition or simply another cultural change. The devastation of the planet that we are bringing about is negating some hundreds of millions, even billions, of years of past development on Earth …” What is happening now “is the most profound change that has taken place during the past five thousand years.”

How we give gifts this season will not only preach the gospel. It will contribute, positively or negatively, to that profound change.

Please add in Comments your suggestions for gospel-based gift-giving, and thanks!

May your holidays bring blessings to you and the entire world!

Advent Group Resource


Although we’ve not yet celebrated Hallowe’en or Thanksgiving, some are already planning for Advent, Nativitythe first season of the Christian church year devoted to preparing to celebrate Christmas. Christmas, in turn, celebrates the Incarnation, the embodiment of divinity in Jesus’ humanity. (Cf. my Advent blog Nov. 17, 2013.)

The Incarnation is a Mystery that a lifetime of contemplation would not exhaust. Advent is the time when we are specifically called to deepen this contemplation. Many individuals and groups use various materials to help them use well this prayer time. My contribution is Advent in the New Universe Story. It offers one page per week to explore the place and significance of the Christian story within the 13.8 billion years of creation. Theologians and others are writing about the transitions needed for this integration, and these Advent pages contain some of their insights.

Advent in the New Universe Story will be available in French and Spanish as well as in English. The English version is now available.

The four weeks include the following:
New Consciousness, New Christian Understanding
The Cosmos Prepares for New Life
Evolving Understanding of Humanity’s Place in Creation
Incarnation Revisited

Universe-Sandbox-20130429-185438The resource contains suggestions for the convener, and the weeks include excerpts from that Sunday’s Scripture readings, information, time for prayer and for sharing, and suggestions for further reading.

I am indebted to the Society of the Holy Child for supporting my ministry and, for Advent in the New Universe Story, to T.J. Murphy for checking the science, to John Surette, S.J. for checking the theology, and to Nancy Frommelt, O.S.F. for fine tuning the text. I am also indebted to those who gather to use my resources; their feedback contributes significantly to future resources.

To find this resource, go to Advent on my website.

Christmas Post Pi

Background: Life of Pi

imagesI fell in love with Life of Pi (a fantasy adventure novel by Yann Martel published in 2001) when I read the book. I later saw the film twice. The imagery and special effects were Oscar-worthy, and I found the overall spirit mesmerizing. His dressed-up symbolic tale is amazing, but so is the basic story of his survival.

After reading the novel, I often thought about Pi’s question to the insurance agents.  They reject the story that uses symbolism, so Pi tells them what they want to hear. It is, after all, an incredible tale of human ingenuity and determination. As nearly as I can recall, Pi then asks them which story they prefer. One can make a choice; both are true. I kept thinking of these two versions of the same story in relation to the Christmas story.

I love all the symbolism in the Christmas story. However, in addition to pondering that images-2version, I also like to ponder the marvels of the basic version.

The following poem was written with full reverence for both ways to tell the Christmas story. I just felt the basic version, for reasons obvious in light of Pi’s question, gets too little attention. Considering what we know that Scripture writers and early carol-composers and artists didn’t know, it might even be the more amazing version. No doubt you’ve had these thoughts and pictured it this way. It’s your preference. It’s all true.

Christmas (Post Pi)

I picture him
another Jewish boy
born in pain
to another Jewish mother,
blood-birthed love-child
of another Jewish couple.

I see them holding him in turn
awed by tiny fists and lashes.
Their first born is a boy,
all features intact,
ten fingers, ten toes.
Praise God!

They wonder,
as parents do most everywhere,
what wisdom and what grace
will bless his years,
and who will he become?

He comes from them, from Earthget-attachment-1.aspx
no need to leap from heaven
if thought of as a floor above.
Divinity lives closer.

Absent are angelic hosts,
though eager ears will listen
for their Glorias.
No star defies celestial laws
to close the light years of its distance.
A supernova might have flashed,
but not remotely close
to Milky Way or Earth or Palestine.

And yet
the stars were present at his birth.
Stardust journeyed farther
than the kings to form this child:
millions of miles, billions of years.
They couldn’t have known.

They knew but this:
they had a helpless child
to feed and clothe and love
and groom to take his place
within a tribe oppressed
by Roman rule, but blessed
with favor by their God.

The rest is up to us.
We are the universe rejoicing
that Mystery became incarnate
in this child, in this way.
In him divinity has grown
to full awareness, and from his light
we’ll shape our lives in new awareness:
God lives and acts in us and in our world.

O come, let us rejoice!