The Eternal Dance Begins: Or, Wishing You all a Very Charles Dickens’ Christmas

The Eternal Dance Begins: Or, Wishing You all a Very Charles Dickens’ Christmas December 25, 2016


The other evening Jan and I watched the 1951 film “Scrooge,” the one featuring Alastair Sim. It was released in the United States as “A Christmas Carol,” the title of the novella upon which the film is based. Even the hundredth time, I enjoyed it. Pulls out all the stops. Sentimental, schmaltzy, and drives right to the heart of a reason for Christmas that makes all the sense in the world.

The author of the book was, of course, Charles Dickens. Dickens was a child of poverty, and he never forgot it. His writings and actions in life show his abiding concern for the fate of those lacking privilege. And his thinking had a profoundly spiritual underpinning. While he was born Anglican and died within the warm embrace of that comprehensive faith, he also had more than a slight Unitarian connection. One of his closest friends was the Unitarian divine Edward Tagart, and during Reverend Tagart’s tenure at Little Portland Street Chapel, Dickens was a member, even purchasing a pew. It was only after Tagart’s death that he drifted slowly back to Canterbury, although always remaining, it is pretty obvious, a religious liberal.

What is most intriguing for me as, frankly, a Unitarian Universalist (if of a distinctly Buddhist flavor) partisan is that Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol while attending the Little Portland Street’s Unitarian chapel. And I suggest Dickens’ Christmas Carol is run right through with the core sentiments of liberal faith. He wrote of his joining among people who do, who practice charity and toleration, and how important that was. I know we aren’t always as successful in the doing as we wish, but that doing is at the heart of our aspiration. My aspiration.

Which makes me think of those ghosts. I can think of several folk who would profit from such visits. In fact I’m sure we all have our own list of those who could profit from those ghostly visits. But, in fact, in sad fact, probably pretty much every one of us might be better off from that visit, from those visits.

And, as we probably shouldn’t count on that “undigested bit of beef,…blot of mustard,…crumb of cheese,…(or) fragment of underdone potato” to prompt the whole enterprise, perhaps this isn’t a bad moment to conjure up our own ghosts, to recall what has been, what is, and what yet might come.

I find myself thinking of that lovely line Harvey Milk used to trot out, “I’m here to recruit you.” There is always the possibility of turning our human hearts. This possibility is indeed a universal human current, found in all religions and, thinking of Harvey Milk, without any specific tradition. We can think of Dicken’s Christmas tale as a map, or a recipe to the deep truth to which we are being called, if you will, being recruited to by this story.

First, we are invited into the caldron of our hearts. It can come from some ghost of the past. Who is Marley in your life? With whom have you conspired to sell your heart to something less than love and care for others? Who has fallen and in that fall has given you a warning? What hurt, what loss might be your pointing to a turning of the heart, of your heart?

Then, we are invited to the lessons our ancestors gave us. As one friend of mine responded when asked how it was she could find time in her busy life to stop and work at the local food pantry, she replied, simply, clearly from this place of ancient wisdom: Because, she said, my mother taught me to. What are the lessons we know are right, that we learned so long ago, but perhaps in the clouds of our lives have forgotten?

And the great question. From the wisdom of your heart, to what will you turn your hand?

The world lies open before us like Mary pregnant with possibility. Which future are you going to let birth? You do get to choose, or, at least you get to choose your part. So, which one is it going to be? There are many paths we can walk. Which is yours? Where does your heart guide you? Where do you wish to go?

My hope for all of us this Christmas is that the ghosts of our hearts guide us to the true spirit of Christmas, that liberal religious spirit that informed the writing of a Christmas Carol – to a life of love and care and out of that, a life of doing.

It is a blessing for our own hearts, a turning from whatever we were unconsciously going, to a life of possibility and care. I’m here to recruit you. To a conversion of the heart. To a life engaged with the great family. Living into the Christmas spirit. Born like a child in a manger. No one knows what will come of that small birth. But the possibilities; oh, the possibilities. Birthing with the real Christmas spirit.

A dance to the end of love…

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