Today is the Twelfth Day of Christmas, the official end of the Christmas Season. I think I've just about recovered from the explosion of work and errands and entertaining and travel that knocks me out by the end of December each year. How about you?
For many of us, Christmas and the whole "holiday season" brings with it opportunities to connect with our extended families, including people who we rarely see through the rest of the year. Sometimes these visits and phone calls are easy--we can laugh together and tell the honest truth about our lives trusting that the other person knows enough of our "back story" that they will be able to get what we're saying without lots of explanation. But other times, extended family gatherings can be so discordant, so uncomfortable that we are left wondering, "Am I really related to these people?"
You can look at those tough encounters two ways: You can puzzle over what kinds of life experiences (or differences in brain chemistry?) can make people who are biologically related so incredibly different. Or you can marvel over the deep connection you share as family members, a connection that cannot be obliterated by conflicting political views or lifestyle choices or understanding of what kinds of behavior are acceptable at a large family event.
When I was a kid, I learned the song "Let There Be Peace On Earth (And Let It Begin With Me)" at Girl Scout Camp. It included the line, "With God as our Father, sisters all are we...." The idea was that we are more likely to seek peace when we see ourselves as part of the same family as the people we're fighting with. It's a dubious assertion, given the number of families I know that are unable to make peace among themselves. But I like the concept. It's another source of wonder and amazement. I have a connection to you that doesn't depend on my ability to understand you or relate to you or even like you. We are related because we are children of the same God.
We love telling stories of making friends or finding connections in unlikely places: a sudden sense of being known by someone with whom we were not able to communicate in words, a deep conversation with a stranger on an airplane, a deep feeling of sympathy with the pain of someone you don't even know. Usually these stories are about the people involved--about the exceptional insight of the person we met or the wonderful coincidence of the things we ended up having in common.
But I think these encounters point to something more than just the two people involved. To me, these surprising connections are experiences of the divine. I think we are empowered to connect to others because of our shared connection to God. Cell phones work like this. When I call you on your cell, I imagine that our phones are connecting directly to each other. But in fact, our connect is made possible because both of our phones connect to a satellite.
Perhaps it seems unnecessary to insert God into person-to-person encounters like this. And when things are going well, when we connect easily with the people around us, there's not much need to analyze why or how this happens. But when we have to work with, live with, make peace with people with whom we have no common understanding, shared interests or innate sympathy--the belief that God has a relationship with both of us, that God loves and values all of us, can be a game changer.
But we won't call on this divine connection in extreme situations if we don't first notice and celebrate it in all the "regular" connections that weave our lives together each day. Try this: next time you run across someone who bothers you, offends you, puts you off, say to yourself, "I'm related to her!" or "He's part of my family!" Maybe that's a practice for a "Spirituality of Us"?