Metaphysical Christmas Orphans
I have a friend who works a counsellor at a homeless youth shelter. I was of the mind to offer to help at the shelter with time or money, so asked her what the youth she supervised were doing for Christmas. In my imagination, especially at Christmas, I tend to envision Edwardian-era orphanages while reading stories like The Christmas Orange or anything by Dickens involving penniless children. My friend said that most of the youth at her shelter had extended family or similar places to go for Christmas lunch and though a few did not have places to go, they were generally well looked after. I was happily surprised by this and enjoyed learning about these amazing, driven, capable – yet homeless, youths.
This homeless/orphan idea led me to think about Christmas and General Conference stories. You know the stories; some fiction, some real, all aimed at reminding us of our privilege, thereby inducing a sense of brotherhood/patriotism/Christianity which is meant to spurn us into charitable and spiritual action. I have no issue with this; in fact, I seek it! I am blessed to live in a western county with a welfare system that could provide for my basic material needs if needed. My current position, although far from welfare, yet even further from being an eccentric millionaire, is a place where my cupboards are full enough that I am able to painlessly make Christmas donations. By all counts in the scale of global economy, I am materially rich.
Yet being spurned into spiritual action is harder to comprehend. Atheists can be just as materially generous as non-atheists. Just because we give time and material does not mean we are more or less spiritual than anyone else. As Claudio Costa reminded us in his October 2010 conference talk, the proud who are learned and the proud who are rich have the greatest spiritual difficulty. This means that in comparative terms of the dispersion of global wealth and education, I am but a prideful step away from spiritual devastation.
I don’t like to think about my (potential? actual?) spiritual decline at Christmastime, yet I do. Even more than usual. But why? Especially when men and women finally have a female role model in Mary to openly celebrate? But we speak of Mary because she is the earthly mother of Christ. Since I have not experienced typical motherhood, I find myself disassociated from celebrations of Mary, and as a result, disjointed from mothers or those who celebrate womanhood only through the lens of motherhood. This makes me consider myself a spiritual orphan, because I seek to relate, but deeply fear I cannot.
Another friend yelled at me for expressing my lack of maternal connection to other women through Mary. “You are a mother!” She had interrupted my tirade, “I hate it when you say you are not! You are a mother to me and my children! You have helped so many children! Don’t say THAT around ME! It is NOT TRUE!” As she is a powerful Maori woman, I refused to argue, thanked her, loved her even more, but moved on… still wishing I understood what mothers meant in traditional feminine kinship with Mary. But I don’t. So I question my spirituality, because at the end of the day of giving material goods away, I sometimes still feel like a spiritual orphan, and blame myself for my mortal failings.
I recall a few years ago when my workplace volunteered to help less fortunate teens. The teens supplied lists of items they would like for Christmas, most were predictable- electronic equipment, music, shoes (think Nike and Reebok for males). But there was one girl. She asked for shopping bags and a gift certificate to a coffee shop. She wanted to go through the mall with bags– even empty bags, and sit down for a coffee so she would look like everyone else did at Christmas. She wanted to give and to look like she could give, rather than being in a position where people were giving to her. Almost every time I recycle a specialty shop bag I think of her. She was a new wave orphan; like me… our needs were met, but we desired and were seeking for something to stave off spiritual orphanhood.
My comparative privilege may remove my longing—and even my appreciation for basic food and shelter. My inability to relate to traditional motherhood may discharge me of embracing the divine feminine in Mary. My small contributions may only be included in a stack of a thousand others who also contribute time and money to different Christmas causes. But as my friend from the shelter, and then my Maori friend taught me, there is still a place for me. There is still a need for me and my tiny contribution.
My contribution is recognised and appreciated by those who know my heart, no matter how atypical, small or insignificant it feels. I am rich and poor, all at once. I am blessed. I am singular. I am unusual. My shopping bags may be lacking and understanding of Mary, of motherhood of you…. But mostly, even on my worst days, I consider myself a servant of Christ, even when I don’t feel like I am enough and cannot relate to others. Even when I feel like a spiritual orphan, at least I am a servant of Christ. That thought keeps me for a moment. Then I am alone again. A metaphysical spiritual orphan… wishing I could do more, give more, be more, understand more.
Do you sometimes feel like a spiritual orphan? What helps you to not feel like a spiritual orphan? Does Christmas sometimes trigger a desire to offer help and understanding beyond your ability? How do you deal with that?