Cambridge, MA. Some of you may remember that I marked the Triduum 2009 by drawing on Paramahamsa Yogananda’s The Second Coming of Christ, reflecting on how he explained the meaning of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Resurrection. Take a look. My point was in part that we do well to listen carefully to how people who are not Christian see Christ, since we can learn from their wisdom. I close the year similarly, with attention to how Yogananda values the birth of Christ in Volume I (pages 54-56) of The Second Coming.
Yogananda first comments on how it was appropriate that the birth of Jesus was seen by peasants who were simple — and more importantly, pure of heart, and bereft of large egos. (He mentions having personally met one such simple and clear-eyed person, the mystic Therese Neumann, famed for her meditations on the crucifixion and her bearing the stigmata.) The whole scene of the Nativity, he says, makes this point: “As with the shepherds on the hillside, the shepherds of man’s faith, devotion, and meditation will be bathed in the light of realization and lead those devotees who are humble in spirit to behold the infinite presence of Christ newborn within them.”
In the face of the crass materialism surrounding Christmas — Yogananda speaks in the first part of the 20th century — he says that he initiated for his followers a daylong meditation service to the worship of Christ: “The ideal is to honor Christ in spiritual meditation from morning till evening, absorbed in feeling in one’s own consciousness the Infinite Christ that was born in Jesus.” This meditation, he says, is the doorway to profound peace and joy.
He concludes that the peace of Christ, which is the gift of Christmas, “is found in the interiorized state of one’s God-communion in meditation. Then, like an ever full reservoir, it pours out freely to one’s family, friends, community, nation, and the world.” In Yogananda’s view, he pleads that we take all this to heart: if we live this way, rooted in the ideals of the life of Jesus, “a millennium of peace and brotherhood would come on earth.”
Indeed, we need to see anew our own lives and possibilities in light of Christ’s birth: “A person who is imbued with God’s peace can feel naught but goodwill toward all. The crib of ordinary consciousness is very small, filled to capacity with self-love. The cradle of goodwill of Christ-love holds the Infinite Consciousness that includes all beings, all nations, all races and faiths as one.”
Yogananda has more to say on the Gospel accounts, but the preceding paragraphs suffice for this year. I recommend getting a copy of his Second Coming — two volumes, over one thousand pages — or asking for it in your library, since it really is a book from which we have much to learn.
In particular, his own Christmas practice is one we would do well to embrace: however busy we are in church or with family and friends, we are still called to contemplate in still silence and simple light the birth of Jesus, thus setting time aside in which we can absorb the light of Christ into our lives. In and through the familiar Christmas events, we too should be able to see the light of God shining in our darkness. Perhaps then we — you, me — can rise to Yogananda’s level of hope too, not letting sin and cynicism too heavily darken our view of the world. I can be more confident that my own personal, interior illumination will be my first, maybe best contribution to the transformation of our world, local and global.
If you have other good examples of how Christ’s birth has been appreciated by people of other religious traditions, please add them, or links to them, by way of comment!