Monday, December 20, 2010


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D.

Although Christmas is often celebrated as the birthday of Jesus Christ, more accurately it’s celebrated as the gift of the Christ Child. Actually, celebrations can encompasses all “sorts and conditions” of believers. The idea is simple. Life’s a gift as are the sun, water, and soil. We treat gifts far differently than we do possessions because a gift means someone else thought well enough of us to give us a gift.

All gifts aren’t the same. Some are contemporaneous, others are legacies. We treasure legacies far more. Nearly everyone has them. I have my father’s pocket watch, my mother’s fountain pen, my grandfather’s carefully crafted, folding ruler, magnifying glass, and his one hundred and seventy eight year old legacy, oil portraits of my great, great grandfather and grandmother. They gaze on me everyday, that stern Norwegian ships’ master, Herr Capt. Poul H. Proms, saying, “Be smart about it, boy.” With a twinkle in his eye, my grandfather often quoted his grandfather to me. Gifted legacies are visible signs bringing to life presences from the past. Sir Isaac Newton wrote to Robert Hooke, “If I have seen further, it is only by standing on the shoulders of the giants.”

Possessions can be replaced but gifts cannot. The meaning invested in gifts makes them far the richer than possessions. As a matter of fact, a life lived in gratitude is far richer than a life lived as a possession. The meaning invested in the Christ Child for believers is the treasure of God with us, not against us. There are other gifts which all people hold dear, such as old friendships, loved ones, and mentors, enhancing the meaning of the present.

We can start with life itself. No one has earned it. It was given to us in trust. I have never met a person who was successful at living who in some way or another has not lived in gratitude and treasured something from the past.

The successful life is fundamentally the thankful life. The verb “to thank” is a transitive verb. It needs a direct object. It just doesn’t hang out there in a sentence all by itself. How sad it is not to have direct objects, leaving our subjects and verbs bereft of companionship.

One of the hallmarks of gardeners is gratitude for the sun, soil, and, water. They celebrate these gifts of life. In Flagstaff people are wont to curse the dirt and envy those in climes rich with dark, humus laden soil. Alas, envy is a sin without a reward, unlike lust or greed. It feeds upon itself, making the envious feel more miserable than before. However, with every temptation there is a means to overcome the temptation. In this case, it’s the shovel, such as shoveling humus into the soil. All it takes is a little “sweat equity” to make a rich soil lush with humus.

Some addled with ambition or conquest have even taken credit for the sun, claiming powers to manage it, but they have all passed into the annals of absurdity. There it is, this terrible, frightening, gaseous, flaming ball in the sky giving us light and life, peeking over the horizon early in the morning, promising life for the next day! One can understand why the Anasazi worshipped the sun, at Chaco Canyon organizing their buildings around the patterns of the sun and the moon. They understood a gifted legacy.

Called “a national treasure” by the Smithsonian, the Sons of the Pioneers’ famous close harmony about “water, clear, cool water” haunts us today. Idols from our history, formed in 1933 by Roy Rogers, they bear witness to a legacy from the past about the gift of water because if we treat water as a possession we lie to ourselves, an act of mauvais foi, “bad faith.” We’ve had a history of despoiling it while, in fact, it’s one of those legacy gifts that we’d be wise to treat as a treasure, holding it dear, since we can’t live without it. “Be smart about it, boy.” Treasure the gifts, especially the gift of life. Merry Christmas!

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2010

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