Christmas, Community, and Connection

Salem Academy and College Christmas Candlelight Service 2021

My recent Christmas message…

I’ve been interested in synchronicities for a number of years. The spiritual formation training I’ve undertaken is grounded in Carl Jung’s work, and his understanding of synchronicity is an an important part of that.

 A synchronicity is essentially a meaningful coincidence. People of faith might refer to them as messages from the Spirit or from the Universe.

 A deep awareness of synchronicity will reward us in a multitude of ways.

 As we have returned to campus this semester after far too much time away from each other, and as we have welcomed many new members of the Salem family – I noticed one word kept popping up continually.

        CONNECTION

        I kept running across it in the course I taught this semester – Nature, Spirituality, and Ecofeminism.

        Students kept talking about connection in our conversations around campus.

        Alums mentioned connections as we journeyed from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania earlier this Fall.

        It came up in movies I watched – whether it was the Marvel Universe, or a documentary on Pauli Murray.

        Guest speakers on campus discussed connection.

        CONNECTION

        This word might be more important to us now than in years before.

We have spent close to 2 years in a global pandemic.

We are always aware of social distancing.

We “connect” through screens more than we ever imagined we would.

Political divides seem larger than ever.

I’ve read a number of articles in recent months about the loneliness and isolation so many people in our society feel in the midst of everything going on. One NPR article referenced how hard it is to make friends in this world today.

Now I am talking about true, deep friendships – not just acquaintances, or peers, or colleagues. A deep friendship is not about expecting a benefit – like networking does – but about the sheer joy of truly seeing another person, and being real and open about who we are with someone else. It is encountering another person with integrity and genuine humanity.

Our souls long for connection.

The Christmas story that we celebrate today is all about CONNECTION.

Jesus – as a Jewish man – was connected with the long legacy of his people. He used stories of faith and culture, and expanded on the Jewish law – as any good Rabbi would do.

So – Jesus was connected and grounded in his faith and culture, and the ancestors who had gone before him.

And based upon his Jewish faith, Jesus taught about connecting with others. The last scripture reading today is considered the core of his teaching. What were the two greatest commandments, taken straight from the Hebrew Scriptures?

Love God with all your heart and mind and soul, and love your neighbor as yourself.

When we truly connect with another person, we see the Divine Light in that person – across any perceived lines of difference. Jesus focused his ministry on caring for the outcasts and forgotten of society – he included and welcomed them, and even sent them forth as preachers and leaders of his movement.

The Christmas story itself is about diversity and inclusivity. We have wealthy people from a very different land with the presence of the Magi. We have shepherds from the field – people who lived on the fringes of society, some of the essential workers of their day. We have angels – representations of a mysterious spiritual realm. We have animals – representing our connection to all life.

And at the center of this story, we have a teenage girl – not yet married – giving birth in some kind of shed with the animals and her fiancé. A family in poverty, soon forced to flee as political refugees.

The book All We Can Save, edited by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine K. Wilkinson, offers a collection of essays, research, letters, stories, art, and poetry as a way to explore how we can save our planet during this climate crisis. One article relates how Christine Nieves Rodriguez founded a grass-roots nonprofit and advocacy organization in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of the devastating Hurricane Maria. In the midst of challenges that seemed insurmountable, she wrote,

“When disasters happen, the person right in front of you is your best chance at survival. That’s when we understood: The times we will be facing are going to require us to recognize that the most important thing around us is community.

Community can only be found in connection. Connection to others – the person right in front of us – connection to all creation, which surrounds everyone. Connection will enable us not only to survive the challenges of these days, but even more so to thrive and to flourish.

It is our connection to each other that will propel us forward for 2022, and for the following years. It is our connection which will not only save us, but enrich, transform, and provide the abundance that the Divine wants for us. Amen.

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