The Aftermas

The Aftermas

We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started, and know the place for the first time.[1] T.S. Eliot

The word Christmas means the celebration of the birth of the Christ, with mas meaning celebration. Thus, the (probably-not-in-any-dictionary) word Aftermas means the celebration after Christmas, which marks the presence of God in our midst. Unfortunately for many of us, the time after Christmas can be dark. The excitement and fever-pitched build up to Christmas can be draining – physically, emotionally, and spiritually. After the presents have been opened, the relatives have gone, and the Christmas services are over, the return to the ordinariness and familiar patterns of our non-Christmas-season days can be hard because nothing in our surroundings seems to have changed. Although the daylight hours steadily increase, the bulk of winter weather is only beginning, at least for most of us in the Northern Hemisphere. Cold days, cold nights, snow, ice, and grey landscapes stretch into the foreseeable future.

One of the things that makes the whole birth-of-Emmanuel (God with us) spiel so difficult to stomach for many folks is the lack of noticeable change in the affect or behavior of professed believers. One should reasonably expect to see at least some difference in those who celebrate and claim this new birth into their lives. If and when a momentous gift is given and received, shouldn’t there be some sort of return expected, like gratitude, increased optimism, or reinvigoration? And yet it is so easy to resume our monotonous routines, bad habits, and cranky outlooks with the same affect and behaviors exhibited in our pre-Christmas days.

One aspect of Christ being born within that is easily forgotten or overwhelmed by our day-to-day activities is that the birth of the Christ within is an awakening to a presence already present within. It is not anything that hasn’t always been available to or with us all along. It is the conscious awareness of the loving, accepting, caring Spirit of God with us, always closer than our next breath, that changes us. But that Spirit does not force itself upon us, nor does it force change in us. As contemplative teacher James Finley often says, “Love is always offered, never imposed.” A spiritual awakening is only transformational when we consciously embrace it. Otherwise, it is only a memory that fades quickly into obscurity. Not unlike those who commit to improving their behaviorafter Sunday morning worship, yet continue to treat others poorly during the week until Sunday rolls around again, and they remember they were going to try to do better, so it can be with Christmas. At his Last Supper, Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” And what is the this when we are to remember the Christ with us? This is our ordinary, daily routines. Jesus said it in the context of eating a meal, an integral part of each of our days. Jesus understood how poor our memories can be.

The challenge of the post-Christmas Aftermas is to hold the presence of the Christ in our conscious awareness as we go about our daily activities. It is the conscious knowledge that we are loved and accepted as we are that changes us. It provides the internal security and confidence needed to open ourselves to others in vulnerable ways – to listen attentively, to serve unselfishly, and to give generously. Once we are consciously aware of who we are in God, we are essentially invincible. We  find joy in dusting, breath-taking beauty in grey landscapes, and awe-inspiring emotion in our opportunities to be with others, even in their suffering, because we are consciously aware of and take joy in God’s presence everywhere and in everything. And those are the sorts of differences in affect and behavior people notice and expect from one who has been awakened. Others do not want to know what has changed in us as much as how what has changed in us impacts how we relate to them. And it is a fair expectation. It is the behavior Jesus modeled for us.

In the words of T.S. Eliot, we arrive back where we began and “know the place for the first time.” Nothing has changed externally – we still have dishes to wash, snow to shovel, and relational challenges to deal with – but everything is different because of our conscious awakening to and remembrance of God with us – Emmanuel. The change is wrought in us so we can change the world, one daily task at a time. In that spirit, I wish you a joyful Aftermas!

The opinions expressed here are mine and not necessarily those of other individuals or organizations. To engage with me or to explore contemplative spiritual direction, contact me at ghildenbrand@sunflower.com.


[1] T.S. Eliot, from “Little Gidding,” Four Quartets, 1943.

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