hand reaching up toward crescent moon

The other day, I attended a Meetup group on Zoom. It was one of those groups that has a policy of respecting the anonymity of all who participate. We were told that what was said in the Zoom group should stay in the Zoom group.

Fine. I won’t share with you exactly what happened. (So painful as a blogger! lol)

Inexactly What Happened

I will say that someone in the group got me all riled up. This participant spoke about a piece of writing they were working on—they called it comedy—in which they trashed the spirit of giving during the holiday season.

They were not trashing runaway consumerism, mind you—which I would have sympathized with. They were trashing the idea that someone might give to people, animals, or the earth itself during the holiday season. Their outlook on life seemed to be, “Leave me alone, and I’ll leave you alone, unless of course you have something to give me, in which case I will take it.”

I gave them a polite but rather elongated piece of my mind. They did not speak for the rest of the meeting.

The Spirit of the Holiday Season

I am sure that this person was reacting to the relentlessness of the messages we all receive during the holiday season. It’s overwhelming. Companies want to sell us things. Organizations want us to give to causes. Religious-themed music and decorations and media want us to feel certain things and behave in certain ways.

Even your resident, friendly blogger is asking for something. Can you even believe it?? Ruuude.

The season’s relentless messaging gets me all upset and anxious and confused, too. None of us are immune to this. But I think it’s important to cut through it all and find what’s important. And what’s important is the spirit of thanksgiving, merging into the spirit of giving.

If we take all the messages thrown at us to heart, we will go insane. But if we toss out the entire season as bullshit, our hearts will turn to stone.

We must find the right balance between these two extremes. This is what I believe as a nonreligious, spiritual person.

But, interestingly enough, this idea is also propounded by folks far more religious than I. I remember this idea being a common theme of sermons, back when I was a kid forced by my parents to attend church. Not always, but often enough to make a mark on me, I remember our Presbyterian pastor striving to cut through the noise of the season and land upon what’s really important.

What’s really important? The big, simple things, like love, appreciation, generosity, hope, compassion, and joy.

There’s No Time Like the Holidays

I’d like to introduce you to a book I read back in January. I usually don’t wait so long as 11 months after finishing a book before writing about it. But it somehow never felt like the right time . . . until now.

I’m glad I waited. The holiday season is the perfect time to engage with the ideas in the book of essays Enlightenment by Trial and Error, by Jay Michaelson.

(Things have a way of working out that way for me, when I let them. Choosing a book to write about on this blog is more of a spiritual practice than a logical one. Writing about a particular book must feel right. See exhibit A: my recent post Hog-Wild, in which I describe being on the fence about the novel Death in Her Hands. How glad I am that I followed my gut in that case! See also exhibit B: on Patreon, I write about books I decided not to feature.)

We’re All Searching for the Same Moon

I’ll tell you more about this astounding collection of essays, and the amazing author who wrote them, next time. For now, let me share a snippet of wisdom from the book:

“Amid all our diversity of myth, we’ve all got it wrong in basically the same way. We mistake the finger pointing at the moon for the moon itself.”

Warning: this is a heretical statement. (However, we shouldn’t be surprised. I mean, the word “Heresies” is in the subtitle of the book!) So I am not sure I even want to get into explaining this statement, . . . but of course I will.

The meaning here is essentially what I’ve been getting at for this whole blog post. Michaelson uses the moon as a metaphor for the mystical ineffable that’s at the center of every religion (and other spiritual endeavor). He uses the finger pointing at the moon as a metaphor for the diverse rituals, traditions, practices, prayers, doctrines, and so on that have been instituted to guide individuals toward the mystical ineffable.

Some people insist on pointing to the moon only in a certain way. They say, “We must worship or pray or believe or act only like this. Any other way is sacrilegious!” Other people refuse to point to the moon at all, saying, “Nothing matters. It’s a dog eat dog world. I’m taking what I can get, and screw you!”

But the moon’s still up there.

And there are millions of different ways to point at it.

Do you see?