Friday, December 18, 2020

Oh Joy, More Toys!

Written by  Rosa Caswell


Well its been a tad mad around here! The vibe of the office is a bit like 7 exhausted people trying their best to fit a 10’ by 10’ jigsaw puzzle into a 1” by 1” space with a bunch of monkeys stealing all the edge pieces.  Additionally, I am the mother of 6, 3 of whom have birthdays in December… As you can imagine, I return home every evening and find myself trying to find ways of relaxing that DON’T include consuming an entire bottle of wine EVERY night.

Now most people would Netflix and Chill, many more may read their favorite book with a lovely cup of tea, and I also take part in such wonderful relaxation. But sometimes my energy levels have gotten to such a fever pitch that normal relaxation just doesn’t work. At that point I often find myself going down curiosity rabbit holes. Why do I find this relaxing? Ask God, I didn’t make me. At any rate, I get very excited about all sorts of historical facts and movements and all that. It helps me to focus and then drain all my mental intensity.

So it was that one fine evening this week, I began researching artwork that depicted the Annunciation (this week’s Gospel) which lead me to a particular artist, who happened to believe in representational art, which happens to deal with the artistic and philosophical idea called “semantics.”  Semantics… I had heard this word many times in many different contexts, but never really understood what it meant. Turns out, it is quite the perfect thing to learn about as Christmas comes speeding to our front door like a freight train with no brakes.

Semantics (from Ancient Greekσημαντικός sēmantikós, "significant")[a][1] is the study of meaning, reference, or truth. (Thank you, Wikipedia,… I really do feel guilty that I haven’t given you $2.75)

Ok, don’t give up on me here… hang in there, it’s gunna be good! So, then I got lost in the psychology section of semantics, then the philosophy section and on and on till about 12am. And here is my summary:

Semantics is the beautiful ability and inclination human beings have to derive and give meaning from and to everything they touch and experience.  I never appreciated this before. More specifically, I never appreciated the semantic meaning that we hold onto in the physical objects of our day to day lives. Like my engagement ring that I inherited from my grandmother. It is one of my most precious things. When I wear it, I feel her warm, loving and generous spirit in me, and surrounding me. I feel both safe and loved by this simple symbol of her love. And I never appreciated the materialness of it all. That a physical, tangible representation of love is so incredibly powerful.

Now for my confession, during the weeks leading up to Christmas I am a bit of a Scrooge. I am usually interiorly fuming at the commercial materialism and waste that our culture suffers from. And when the kids start giving me their Christmas lists I truly struggle with the ethical choices I have to make. The piles of waste that go into our garbage bin on Christmas afternoon hurts my soul. And the amount of temper tantrums I have seen on a Christmas Day because, “He touched my stuff”! And “How come I can’t have a turn!” Holy Moses, it feels like the greed and grabbiness of the human spirit reaches its ultimate peak on Christmas, the day Jesus was laid in a stable, a new born baby with an exhausted father and his mother who has just given birth, IN A BARN!  

But the word “semantics” has finally softened my harsh judgment of this very tangible celebration. It clicked. Humans pour meaning into objects and then give them too each other. We truly are physical people, and we depend on tangible objects to express meaning that is sometimes to deep for words, or maybe just needs to be said in everyway or anyway possible: “I love you”, “you are incredibly important to me”, “our hearts are one”, “your joy is my joy”, and “your sorrow my pain,” “you are welcome here,” “I have hope in you.” Let me tell you what, I had myself a little joyful shopping spree after this consideration. And every gift I carried out of Canadian Tire I held with great anticipation, because the box of tent poles was truly my gift of adventure, and the box of board games was my desire to be with my children and laugh with them! The beautiful and delicate tea set was my wish that my daughter always knows how beautiful she truly is.  

So where do the temper tantrums come in? Why all the waste? What about this darker side to it all? I think it is also semantics. What if the gift you give says: “We are just as rich as the neighbors,” what if the meaning you attribute to the object you give is no more than competition. Or maybe it’s just: “here, don’t say I never gave you nothin.” And I am guilty of this. I am guilty of feeling insecure about what I can give my own children, feeling inadequate and irritable at the feeling that I am losing the coolest Christmas Family award. And the sentence “but all my classmates have an iphone!” does make me feel like a failure of a parent, even though I know it’s ridiculous.

I am guilty of giving gifts that only try to fill a Christmas quota. But this year I feel like this burden has finally fallen off my shoulders. I feel a lightness and joy that I guess must be that ever elusive “Christmas Spirit”.  Mary, a mother in a barn made Christmas warm and light. She put tender love in swaddling clothes and fill a barn with hope. I can too put my mother’s warmth and care into the material gifts I share this year.

Interestingly enough, if you can remember all the way to the beginning of this very long ramble, this revelation all began with searching for artwork of the Annunciation which is Intangible Love – God – becoming flesh.   Maybe it was no random rabbit hole after all.

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