Santa, Sweets, & The Savior of Imagination

Imagination is, in fact, everything …

“So far, all of the letters that have been posted online have been adopted.” That would be letters to Santa sent to the North Pole via the United States Postal Service. My heart burst open.

Then I thought, Of course they have. It is human nature — genuinely hard-wired into human nature — to help in the face of need. Many of the children’s missives asked for a cure for coronavirus. “Thank you, Santa!” [one] wrote, signing off. “I wish Covid was over so we can hug.” Yeah, me too.

Just as many children asked for jobs for their parents. Children of the age to write to Santa shouldn’t even know whether their parents have work, not in a rich country like the United States of America. Yet, they do.

In yesterday’s New York Times, Peter Wehner wrote about Jesus the Radical. The moment I saw the title, I was intrigued even though, despite the fact that I am a minister, I am not really a practicing Christian unless you count classical metaphysics as a mystical branch of Christianity.

Mr. Wehner writes, “First-century Christians weren’t prepared for what a truly radical and radically inclusive figure Jesus was, and neither are today’s Christians. We want to tame and domesticate who he was, but Jesus’ life and ministry don’t really allow for it. He shattered barrier after barrier.”

Translation: we are happy to solve the short-term problem of nothing under the tree for the kids who write to Santa — that’s a one-and-done, win/win — but we are not equally happy or committed to making it safe for everyone to hug Santa. Nor are we equally happy to look straight in the face of the unemployed and get committed to doing something about that. No, we like to cherry-pick our Jesus. Personally, I think it ticks him off.

I believe the Nazarene Rabbi, Jesus, was an extraordinary teacher. “Jesus modeled inclusion and solidarity with the ‘unclean’ and marginalized not only for their sake but for the sake of the powerful and the privileged and for the good of the whole.”

Um, that would be all of us. ALL. To look at and really see those around us in need and to be committed to repairing whatever ails them, now there’s a Christianity I might consider practicing for myself.

Mr. Wehner again, “Jesus must have understood that we human beings battle with exclusion, self-righteousness and arrogance, and have a quick trigger finger when it comes to judging others. Jesus knew how easily we could fall into the trap of turning ‘the other’ — those of other races, ethnicities, classes, genders, and nations — into enemies. We place loyalty to the tribe over compassion and human connection. We view differences as threatening; the result is we become isolated, rigid in our thinking, harsh and unforgiving.”

I’ve met these sorts of Christians plenty of times over the years. Their behaviors are what make me not-a-Christian. Personally, I think Jesus of Nazareth was a little like Wil Parker from Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! Wil sings a song called “All ’Er Nothin’.” Yeah, definitely. You don’t get to pick and choose from his teachings. Either you believe him, and live all of his teachings or you don’t.

“Jesus clearly believed that outcasts had a lot to teach the privileged and the powerful, including the virtues of humility and the vice of supreme certitude. Rather than seeing God exclusively as a moral taskmaster, Jesus understood that the weak and dispossessed often experience God in a different way — as a dispenser of grace, a source of comfort, a redeemer. They see the world, and God, through a different prism than do the powerful and the proud. The lowly in the world offer a corrective to the spiritual astigmatisms that develop among the rest of us.”

Spiritual astigmatism is rife these days.

Maya Phillips writes in “Sensational Sweets of the Imagination,” that when Peter Pan returns to Neverland in the movie “Hook,” he “and the Lost Boys sit down for dinner. The pots and plates are empty and yet the boys seem to eat, shoveling in handfuls of air. Peter, hungry and exasperated, begs to know where the real food is. The Lost Boys remind him: He has to use his imagination. He does and suddenly the food manifests: a grand feast of meats and sides and, next to bowls overflowing with fruit, custard pies in candy-apple reds and cerulean blues, with dollops of contrasting colors on top.”

Writing to Santa is a most excellent use of the imagination, is it not? Maeve Higgins writing about missing her friends this morning says she’s mining her memories to stay close to her friends. Imagination, no? Travel reporter Tariro Mzezewa who is, of course, not traveling right now is daydreaming about her next adventures. Also imagination.

Mr. Wehner, like all we preachers who have the temerity to tells others what Jesus meant, concludes, “The lesson from Jesus’ life and ministry is that understanding people’s stories and struggles requires much more time and effort than condemning them, but it is vastly more rewarding. And the lesson of Christmas and the incarnation, at least for those of us of the Christian faith, is that all of us were once outcasts, broken yet loved, and worth reaching out to and redeeming. If God did that for us, why do we find it so hard to do it for each other?”

Because we are spoiled, and we want the parts of spirituality that we want, and we want to ignore the parts that we don’t want, but that isn’t how real spiritual practice ever works. Real spiritual practice covers all of life — the good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful, and all experiences in between.

We want the sweet without the sour. We want joy without the disappointment. We want the cash without the effort. We want life to be easy. I don’t think it’s meant to be. I think, instead, that life is meant to be rich, full, myriad experiences that we ourselves design in order to heal, grow, and learn.

One of the basic lessons of all faiths is that everyone must be included. There can be no them. But first we must learn to imagine what life would be like if everyone were included in all the reindeer games all the time. “Hook” tells us that imagination is “not something to be underestimated.” I agree. “Imagination is,” as Albert Einstein maintained, “everything.”

The imaginary sweets in Ms. Phillips’ article, including Willy Wonka’s Everlasting Gobstopper, “are appealing for more than their tastes, which we can only imagine. … The worlds they represent, the whimsy they capture and the magic they hold — those, above all, are the treat.”

The poor, the lost, the sick, the dying, the lonely, the children who are writing to Santa to ask for work for their parents, these are, as Jesus would have said, “the least of these.”

It’s Christmas Day. The least of these aren’t contagious, Beloved. You can’t catch losing your job by helping another get one. Your children can’t catch no presents under the tree by giving gifts to children who have none. You can’t catch no food on the table by providing Christmas dinner for those who can’t provide it for themselves.

I know, I know, the teeming maw of need is overwhelming, but that amazing teacher Jesus shows us how to handle it with style, with grace, and above all, with imagination — one person, one family, one situation at a time. Imagination, if you’ll think about it, Beloved, is actually the serum cure for a lot of things. Imagination in science’s clothing is what created the Covid-19 vaccine, isn’t it?

Melissa Clark is a food writer for The New York Times. She wrote this morning, “The best muffins are the ones that veer into cupcake territory. Buttery, rich and occasionally glazed or iced, a muffin is intended to make eating cake acceptable for breakfast.” It takes quite the imagination to look at a bran muffin and see a cupcake, doesn’t it?

Look around you, Beloved, walk in Jesus’ shoes if you are a Christian. Find a need, and fill it. Then, find the next one. It’ll work a treat in your own heart, and the hearts of those you help. And maybe next Christmas, we’ll all be able to hug Santa, we’ll all be safe and immune, and we’ll all turn bran muffins into cupcakes. Just imagine it.

Dr. Susan Corso is a spiritual teacher, the founder of iAmpersand, and the author of The Mex Mysteries, the Boots & Boas Books, and spiritual nonfiction. Her essays address the intersection of spirituality and culture. Her website is susancorso.com.

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Dr. Susan Corso a metaphysician with a private counseling practice for 35+ years. She has written too many books to list here. Her website is www.susancorso.com

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Susan Corso

Susan Corso

Dr. Susan Corso a metaphysician with a private counseling practice for 35+ years. She has written too many books to list here. Her website is www.susancorso.com

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