Watching a child come into the world is a miraculous event. When my my first child was born, I faced the amazing fact that I was holding a new life in my hands, a life that had never been here before. From two people coming together a third had emerged. I had an image of all the pictures of the holy family over a thousand year. What those pictures represented for me at that time was just venerating the miracle of birth— that out of life, life emerges; out of a mother, a child is born.
I was once teaching a class on spirituality, and there was one guy who was having trouble with the whole concept of spirituality and couldn’t think of anything which he had felt was “spiritual” until finally he said he felt that way at the birth of his child.
And at this time of year as we celebrate the turn of the year, the solstice, the birth of Jesus, the birth of a new year, the increasing light in the world, reflected in the Festival of Lights, we are celebrating this miracle of life— new life emerging from the old, and the widening light upon which this life depends.
Yet behind this emergence is death and I was reminded of that this year. My father in law died 10 days before Christmas. While it was a very sad occasion fraught with some guilt on my part about us not visiting him enough—it was a sober reminder of the background of death with which we live. It was mixed however with the joy of seeing our relatives and spending time with them—another reminded of the importance of community in handling the vicissitudes of life.
“Death is the mother of beauty,” Wallace Steven wrote. And out of death, birth comes.
I was once practicing with a zen group in Boulder, Colorado and this long time practitioner named Gil was talking about how in buddhist teaching, each moment emerges, is born and dies. And so everything is born and dies each moment. And he added, “You could call me a born again buddhist.”
It’s a good reminder that this moment is all there is, and each moment is a new one with new possibilities. This one right now in front of our eyes. We take a breath, let go, and appreciate it—this gift of the moment, of life.
And then Hotei, who looks a lot like Santa Claus with a big belly and a sack on his back, just stretches his hand and arms out, leans back and laughs and laughs.