A Christmas Letter on Being-ness
by Jane Tawel
December 24, 2015
A Christmas Letter is about all the stuff one and one’s family has done in the past year. It’s an accounting of achievements and that is as it should be since that is what satisfies the recipients’ curiosity. There is a saying people toss around when they are telling one not to stress– “We’re not called human doings, we’re called human beings“. As I age, I am distilling into more and more myself, which is (I’m often told) — impassioned and weird. So once again this season, I write my traditional odd and intense Christmas letter, not because that is what I do, but because that is what I am — odd and intense. Sometimes you shouldn’t stake claim and insist on being what you naturally are — being is like writing– it is important to understand context and connotation. In writing as in life, know your context and if necessary dial down your weird and impassioned. I’m a bit spotty on successfully doing that, I admit. But I am learning that it is often okay to accept one’s particular self. Each of us is created in a unique way to reflect the image of our Creator God. I serve an odd and intense God — an impassioned God, a strange one-of-a-kind God, who unlike other gods did not tell us to worship Him for what He had done or would do, but told us to worship Him for what He is: “I Am”. We “Beings” are the only created “imago dei” of that God — imago means “idealized concept” — which fittingly has nothing to do with “doing” but means “a better than in reality idea”. That’s what we will be again someday — our realized ideal self. Meantime, we work at it. This time of year we celebrate the fact that while we were formed from dust into God’s image, because we rejected that image, God chose to be created in our image–ad imaginem hominis. We were given the perfect Being to model — Jesus, the Christ. As the hymn goes: “Amazing love, how can it be that thou my God, should (be born) and die for me!”. So here are some things the Tawel Imago Dei’s have been being this year.
I get all my strange random thoughts out of my head in a blog where you can also find this letter (janetawel.wordpress.com). I am reading a lot of C.S. Lewis. One cannot spend time with C.S. Lewis and not become at least a wee bit changed. Lewis has such a high view of human beings –that is if humans choose to sacrifice completely the sense of self to the sense of imago dei– through relationship with the living God and in the manner of the Son of God. It is a fearful thing to ponder that one day we will become what we have always truly been judged to be, with no regard to what we have done. The bible calls it God’s view of the true heart of one’s soul. We are easily confused and disoriented by the distorted mirrors reflecting what is truly “us”. There is none good but God and no goodness in us but our Godlikeness in Christ. One can live in a state of stunned awe reading a lot of the bible and Lewis. I learned more about reading and writing with 15 Azusa Pacific University freshmen. One of the things you try to help students with is that when writing, stick to the same verb tense. The other thing is that it is easier to write consistently in present tense than in past tense. I think it is easier to LIVE consistently in present tense as well — easier than living in past achievements and problems or living in future dreams and worries. Occupare Momento! With my “at least on paper grown up” kiddos, I am failing but trying to transition from “doing mom” to “being mom”. This is the necessity if you want to be friends with your adult children — you will always “be” their mom, but you don’t “do” mom any more — at least I imagine you can’t until they become parents and then you can do “grand” mom. Being mom means you let them all be who they are becoming and you just be there for them. Whatever you do, don’t let on that you are still doing stuff for them. Except doing the occasional bill paying for them. That’s ok. This morning the best part of still being mom, is being with all my chicks and my hubby under one roof — even if only for a short amount of time. They all keep asking me what I want for Christmas — isn’t it obvious? — just to BE– together. There is a great old Peter Seller’s movie called, “Being There”. Chauncey Gardiner keeps saying, “I like to watch.” I “like to watch” my children and husband bloom and grow. So I am watching my family being: Hard workers. Risk takers. Creators. Friends. Students. Travelers. Dreamers.
Raoul works creatively and mostly happily to make embedded systems (he told me to call them that — we call them “chippies”). Mosaix Technologies celebrates its 15th year working with clients big and small: from JPL, Berkeley, Terra, and more. Raoul has a delightful love of learning, enjoying lectures at Caltech, shows from Frontline to Nova to Cooking shows on PBS– for Christmas Clare is giving him a class in music appreciation. Raoul is a creative chef, baking bread, making tandoori chicken on the big Red Egg, and his traditional Christmas Eve fondue and crepes. Raoul and I take as many of the kids as we can and travel to Bryce / Zion National Parks, San Francisco, Chicago, Winona Lake, and Colorado. But the big deal is that this spring Raoul took Gordon to visit India — a place from Raoul’s past, that is now part of the present again in the relationship and memories he and Gordon enjoy together.
Justine works hard and quite successfully in Norfolk, Virginia at a company called Enviva. She is a risk taker who left Hyundai in Alabama for yet another great unknown and now is a quality manager for a company that makes environmentally friendly fuel. Justine is admirable because wherever she lands, she seeks and makes friends. This is our daughter who as a little girl, cried every time we tried to separate more than a few inches from her, and now she is a young woman and– well, she is much TOO independent and far from home! Clarissa works about fifty jobs it seems like. She will soon leave Pasadena Conservatory of Music and plunge bravely into a new job at KBKG in Pasadena. We are so impressed with her gumption and talents. Clare creates some truly beautiful art with her camera and is starting a little business in photography. In Clarissa’s down time she studies for the GRE. Verity works hard at her studies at UCLA majoring in English and Political Science. In two short years, she has become a die-hard Bruin. She is a friend magnet to many– both at university and at home. She not only is getting super- duper grades but kudos at her job in the residence hall — earning money for all the chai lattes she drinks. Gordon at 17 is a concurrent high school student at Excellence in Education and a college student at Citrus College. He works hard at his Justice Administration class, dreaming of perhaps someday being a police officer but he is equally creative in his Computer Systems class, perhaps someday working in IT. Maybe he’ll do both for the FBI or continue his work with his father at Mosaix. Gordon creates graphic designs –he helped Clarissa create her water mark for her photography business. He is a big time gamer. He enjoys reading, especially Stephen King and graphic novels, and is always seeking part time work to save for a car (which is how I will continue to spell motorcycle until Gordon spells it that way too).
Christmas is a time of traditions. Traditions are not things one has merely done in the past but they become traditions because you keep doing them–in the present. We as you, are in the midst of our many Christmas traditions, like fudge and cookie making, driving around to see the lights, singing carols, hiding gifts, and snuggling together watching Christmas movies. Our traditions are mostly about being present in the season. Advent implores us to live fully in the present reality while anticipating the future reality. As Christians we lean our frail earthly weight into our calling to be “on earth as it is in heaven” – timeless present in God’s presence. Advent is about Christ with us, in us, and Christ to be. The church liturgy helps ground us in the present of Christ’s presence, not by having us think on what He did — “He was born”– but by celebrating what His Being continues to mean daily, in this very moment, in the present eternity of our souls –“He IS born.” “He IS Risen”. “He IS coming again”. He Is I Am.
This Christmas perhaps we First World human beings, are more aware of our frailty and transitory state as the Evil One rears in his death throes of ugliness, unnaturalness, violence, and hatred. Today increasingly seems to gain better odds at being my last day. While Eternity becomes a more present longing, it is yet good to be thankful for another hour to be present here. We spend a lot of time doing good things that care for the body and mind. But what of that which is our innermost being? How shall we live to be Souls rather than Bucket Lists? We are called to improve and to love this created world and God’s created people– as our skills and callings and dreams allow. But the soul can only be bettered by the One who created it, so that the true self can be made into that thing which is all that will eternally remain –Faith, Hope and Love. The soul is our being-ness. It is only in being known by our Creator, by knowing our Creator, and by allowing that humbling, undeserved but delightful relationship to God to inform all our human BEING relationships, that we truly become who we are meant to BE– Little Christs– poor imitations but striving imitators nonetheless, of Him of whom the angels sang, “Glory to Him in the Highest”. And by giving Christ glory, may peace on earth and good will be to all souls. Hoping that in the New Year that you and yours, may BE all that you are meant to be.
Jane and The Tawels: Raoul, Justine, Clarissa, Verity and Gordon — December 2015