The Feast of Surprise

A down-and-out character in Tennessee Williams’ play “Small Craft Warnings” asks this question: “What is the one thing you must not lose sight of in this world before leaving it? Surprise. The capacity for surprise.”

Christmas is one of the great stories of “surprise.” A virgin birth, an angelic choir to greet a long-anticipated savior in the stinkiest of settings, are the surprise highlights in a story that ripples with the unexpected.

No matter one’s beliefs, I think it does us good to reflect on our own individual capacity for being surprised – by life and perhaps, most especially, by our own self. Can you still surprise yourself?

The mad rush to year’s end, beginning at Thanksgiving, accelerates the freneticism of our daily routines. We want some holiday cheer, some Christmas “spirit,” whatever that spirit actually means and feels and looks like. But because we’ve been planning, organizing, shopping and juggling we just end up losing sight of the “why” of it all.

For some that “why” has a religious answer and for others it has some different, ill-defined answer. But no matter – we’re still left with the reality that “surprise” is embedded within the DNA of this holiday. Even the most famous secular Christmas story, “A Christmas Carol,” is the tale of a nasty old man who is given the surprise of his life – past, present and future!

The great gift of this celebration is the gift of being open to surprise. And why is this gift so extraordinarily crucial? Because life without surprise is not life. It’s just monotonous, deadening, robotic routine.

To keep Christmas in one’s heart all year round is to promise to be a bearer of surprise in all things great and small. It’s mindfully being willing to do the unexpected, the unanticipated and the unlooked for. To surprise people with small courtesies as simple as opening a door or sending a thank-you. To surprise the seemingly idiotic with patience. To surprise the beggar with a dollar. To surprise a friend with a lunch date.

And it means being willing to surprise your own self – to be kind to your own self – to not punish yourself with food that makes you sluggish, with delayed projects that derail your credibility or with dreams deferred that cause you to walk away from yourself.

To surprise your self by doing what you’ve put off doing because of fear.

This is a time for surprise and light and birth in ways unfamiliar and unnerving. This is a time to once again resolve to live with courage.

Life, in all its messy glory, is what animates the deepest yearnings of December 25th in both its religious and secular manifestations.

Merry Surprise!

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