Christmas is a time for charity – but that doesn’t seem to go far when we think of all the violence in the world.
It’s been a year of refugees and displacement.
I listened to Bob Dylan’s Chimes of Freedom earlier today and the words won’t leave me. (I’m only quoting here, not providing the full lyric.) The second line I’ve quoted remembers refugees. How could we, remembering the crisis at the end of World War II, have allowed it to happen again?
….Flashing for the warriors whose strength is not to fight/ Flashing for the refugees on the unarmed road of flight/ An’ for each an’ ev’ry underdog soldier in the night …. /
….Tolling for the deaf an’ blind, tolling for the mute / For the mistreated, mateless mother, the mistitled prostitute/ For the misdemeanor outlaw, chased an’ cheated by pursuit ….
…..Tolling for the aching whose wounds cannot be nursed/ For the countless confused, accused, misused, strung-out ones an’ worse / An’ for every hung-up person in the whole wide universe
An’ we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing.
There’s an editorial in the Christmas edition of The Week which argues that ‘people … aren’t that nice’, that Scrooge had a point. If we’re to like others, better they think as we do. Best just to come to terms with the fact, and get on with life.
That sounds all very reasonable, better not to seek the unattainable, we’ll do better if we understand our deficiencies.
But it’s precisely what we have to get beyond.
Compassion isn’t somehow a compromise with our selfish side, something which we engage in out of conscience and a mite reluctantly and find to our surprise that it’s quite rewarding. Compassion is where our true nature shows itself, and the rewards are immeasurable. Peace of mind, yes, but not peace because we seek it, but because it goes with the territory of caring for others. It’s the Buddhist message – our ‘original face’, and the Christian message – more than a pre-lapsarian state of grace, Adam and Eve in the garden – something that’s alive in the heart. And it’s the humanist message too, when we get beyond self.
Leonard Cohen sketches a wonderful, haggard and mournful face in his ‘Book of Longing’, literally sketches, and captions the sketch ‘a private gaze’, followed by the words
‘even though he was built to see the world this way, he was also built to disregard, to be free of the way he was built to see the world.’
I like that. We don’t have to resign ourselves to a selfish human nature. We are built to disregard. Dylan reminds us of a few of the million ways the world malfunctions. And we can do something about it.