This life has been given to you for repentance. Do not waste it on vain pursuits.
St. Isaac the Syrian
The Christmas shopping season is upon us. It used to be that merchants would, at least, wait until our Thanksgiving meals have been well digested and football fans had plenty of time to cheer or curse the results of the big game. Alas, the infamous “black Friday” begins Thursday night. It was one thing when a local restaurant or tavern would offer a holiday meal to weary travelers who were delayed from reaching their intended destination. I suppose mall food courts will offer turkey steak and cheese hoagies to shoppers awaiting “door buster specials.”
Yet, it is not enough to bemoan how Christmas has become an overly commercial farce. Cynicism is also a toxic mentality which destroys the joy and hope that we should have during this (and any other) time of the year. Unmet expectations of special gifts under the tree, losing beloved relatives and friends, employment and finances taking turns for the worse; such things can easily lead people into a slippery slope of depression as real life does not always mirror the seasonal Hallmark Channel specials.
The words of St. Isaac the Syrian have become my mantra for these days leading into Christmas. While I have done nothing to justify arrest and imprisonment, I am mindful of my imperfect actions, words, and (the source of these things) thoughts. The fact that the Lord has not destroyed me in my wickedness is proof of his love and desire that I should change my ways. Thus, repentance should be a part of everything I do from eating breakfast, performing task at home and work, even enjoying a quick game of mahjong. One need not live in sackcloth and ashes. But, to be careful of the thoughts harbored has a positive effect on words spoken and things done.
It is more difficult to shop until you drop knowing that one’s highest aim is a change of self. Nor can one wallow in self-pity if they focus on developing a greater spiritual self. We seek out greater principles of life instead. This is where things are created and discoveries are made. New bonds of interaction are forged and hope continues in spite of disappointments and disasters. It is this higher awareness that cannot be found in fat men sliding down chimneys or washing away one’s misery in spirits. It is found only when one pursues a life of spirit.
Give thoughtful gifts to the people you love. Refuse to be swept up in the excesses of commercial marketing. Seeking the higher point of our existence keeps us safe from this seasons toxicity and allows us a fullness of life that goes beyond January first.