This season I am aware of suffering in a way that seems to go deeper every year. I can hardly bear to see sick children in hospitals, and the poor in other parts of the world. Tears well up. At the same time, I love the emphasis on connecting with loved
ones, family and friends, old and new. I love the sending of cards and the choosing of gifts - not for the things themselves, but for what they signify: the loving connection with that person. This reality seems to become stronger with each passing year.
In my morning reading just now I came across this quote from Hazrat Inayat Khan:
God breaks the heart again and again and again until it stays open.
I know this is true from lengthening life experience, but I also
know, on a daily basis, how easily my heart can shut down in a split second; how closed I can become at a word which triggers some old experience; and how aware I am of this reality as I get older. And I know now that it is stubborn distrust that closes the
heart down: distrust that things can be different; distrust that something new can break through the oldest of patterns; distrust that the hardest response can also soften.
Christmas offers the chance, and for many of us the longing, to reconnect
with family and friends, and - where those hard walls of distrust appear - to deliberately step over them, opening our hearts again and again. Will they break again? Oh yes, very likely! But it is in the breaking - the kneading - the softening - over and over
- that our hearts become able to bear the suffering, the helplessness of being an ordinary human being in ordinary time.
The photo here is of a small Christmas-wreath brooch that my sister-in-law made by hand for me over thirty years ago.
She died of cancer at 38. Whenever I take out that pin, as I have for all those Christmases since, I feel a wound opening afresh as my heart aches at losing her. And how many losses since! Yet, all those losses are what contribute to being soft in
today's moment, the ability to be present to what is, softened by what has been. Having learned the lesson of this pin, I am ready to pass it on to her daughter, now the age her Mom was when she died. The Christmas pin has served its purpose with
May all who read this find many moments of heart-softening this Christmas.