Good tidings for Christmas

My daughter Kristin and son Alex were up from Seattle for a short visit over Christmas. We began Christmas morning - at Kristin's urging, with a few minutes of quiet sitting meditation and shared yoga practice. That set a beautiful tone for the rest of the day. I felt an inner quiet and ease because of it, even in the midst of the swirl.

It was a poignant Christmas. My mother is 91 and the matriarch of our extended family. She still lives independently in a house overlooking Saratoga Passage on Whidbey Island that has served as our extended clan-house for the last twenty-five years.

We are lucky. Everyone in my family of origin, including my parents and three siblings, settled on Whidbey by 1990, raised our children in a big, unruly wad of cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents. All of our children have moved on into their own lives now, several with children of their own. Some went far away to college, and all have traveled the world. But every one of them has returned to live in the Northwest, and most still find their way back to celebrate major holidays together. A big reason my mom has been able to live independently since my dad died is because she has so much family support around her. It is a too-rare luxury in our current world of often widely scattered families.

But the time has come for my mom to move out of the "clan house" we all love so much.  She can't drive anymore. She is losing her eyesight, and the house is just too much for her keep up. Her world is growing more compact. Her energy is waning. All good things must end, and the house will go up for sale this spring.

So last night's Christmas dinner at her house was a poignant one. Everyone was there, all four of her children, all nine of her grandchildren, and all seven great grandchildren. Four generations. It may well be the last time we are all together like this, in our ever-widening configuration of family.

We were swimming in the blessings of our shared life - the long friendships, the two new additions to the family from this past year, the gifts and mountains of goodies, the shared Christmas carols, and the annual reading of Dylan Thomas' A Child's Christmas in Wales. No matter that we have splintered in many different directions in our spiritual orientations - Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, and agnostic. The spirit of the mid-winter fest can't be held down. It seems to find ever new and resilient ways of expressing itself.

There is much work that awaits doing, many challenging paths to tread in the coming weeks and months. Each of us has our worries and troubles, our particular calling and destiny. Having these bonds of family, and a willingness to celebrate these annual cycles of continuity and love, has never been more important.

The Zen teacher John Tarrant has written: "Each age has its own tasks. For most of us now, our monasteries have no walls except the silence our meditation gathers to the center of our lives, and this is enough - it is more than enough. Our hermitage is the act of living with attention in the midst of things: amid the rhythms of work and love, the bath with the child, the endlessly growing paperwork, the ever-present likelihood of war, the necessity for taking action to help the world. For us, a good spiritual life is permeable and robust. It faces things squarely, knowing the smallest moments are all we have, and that even the smallest moment is full of happiness."

These are my Holiday wishes for you, that even your smallest moments may be blessed with this kind of true happiness, and that you may be surrounded by people who accept you and love you just as you are.