A group of chess enthusiasts checked into a hotel and were standing in the lobby discussing their recent tournament victories. After about an hour, the manager came out of the office and asked them to disperse. “But why,” they asked, as they moved off. “Because”, he said, “I can’t stand chess-nuts boasting in an open foyer.”
Two young boys were walking home from a traditional Sunday School having been taught a lesson on the devil. One little boy was overheard saying to the other, ‘What do you think about all this devil business?’
The other youngster (no doubt a future Unitarian Universalist) replied thoughtfully, ‘Well, you know how Santa Claus turned out. It’s probably just your dad, too’
Perhaps we could say the same thing about God; it’s probably just our father and our mother, but mostly our father, since God is seen as male. So during these holidays I usually use the abbreviation of Christmas as X-mas. I use X for the unknown, to be discovered by working out the problems of life. As is often the case in mathematics, what is often laughing called ‘the answer’ is not as important as the working out of the problem along the way. I interpret that in my spiritual language as the journey is the working out of the problems of life and therefore, it is the most important thing, not the end or the answer. To be religious seekers after the metaphors of religious meaning, we have to be willing to explore language as well, and like listening to Xmas carols, sometimes just sing with great feelings. It is said that the reason that we UU’s are not great singers is that we are often too busy reading ahead to see if we agree with all the words!
Like saying that Santa Claus turns out not be a real man, but the spirit of Xmas which means giving generously, even anonymously, and not for an expected return. After all, what does Santa get for Xmas other than one heck of a long work day and countless frequent flyer miles? Almost Godlike satisfaction of helping others, not as bribe for eventual heaven, but simply out of the goodness of his heart.
Santa would be almost the exact opposite of Scrooge, at least the pre-transformed Scrooge, but there was no ‘Santa Claus’ in Dickens’ 1840 England; there was a kind of Pagan ‘Father Xmas’ that actually appears as one of his visions. Dickens’ Christmas Carol’ became a bestseller and it was good thing, because he was one step away from the literal ‘poorhouse’ or even debtor’s prison. Scrooge becomes one of the famous Characters of Xmases ever since, even to the Disney cartoon. Many of us have never actually read it, and I would urge us to. Like almost remembered Bible Stories of our youth, we must as adults reread our childhood stories, myths and fable, to find anew level of mature understanding. Today we use the word Scrooge, not as the finally enlightened and transformed Scrooge, but as the ‘Bah, Humbug’ cheap and greedy Scrooge. Indeed, Walt Disney again would cast him in comic books as Uncle Scrooge and his nephews ,Hewey, Dewey and Louie, no doubt symbolizing the trinity.
While at a bookstore some years ago, I came across a book with a title that caught my eye, then my mind; it was Transforming Scrooge: Dickens’ Blueprint for a Spiritual Awakening,by Joseph D. Cusumano.PhD., a high school literature teacher and psycho spiritual therapist. One jacket blurb from well known therapist John Bradshaw: ‘Transforming Scrooge brings Dickens’ powerfully relevant message of ego death and spiritual’ rebirth back to us full-force. No one will think of Scrooge in the same way after this clear, thoughtful work, It is truly a work for all seasons.’
Cusumanos says that the major problem is that we identify with certain characters from our childhood, not our adulthood. ‘most of us,’ says the author, identify with Bob Cratchit, Scrooge’s work place victim, or with Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, his family victim, or with Tiny Tim, Scrooge’s physical victim. Because most of us were initially exposed to A Christmas Carol as children, we have not taken the time to meditate maturely upon the story as adults. In order to understand and feel the full impact of the message, we need to let go of our fairy tale preconceptions of the story, derived from and filtered through a variety of media, and read it as serious adult psychology and mythology. Dickens always intended his story to inform us about our own lives.’
It is also a good resource for bringing sanity and spirituality back to Xmas as well as for helping others less fortunate. Dickens himself survived childhood poverty and wrote much of his famous works decrying the terrible enslavement of young children in industrialized England. Today, of course, childhood enslavement continues but now invisibly, not in England or the US but in poor undeveloped countries where our corporations have transferred work to find, once again almost literally slave labor at a fraction of the cost. Indeed, one scene in the book which comes back to literally haunt Scrooge, is when the two alms collectors, like a bell-ringing kettle of today to help the poor in this season of plenty, Scrooge sends them away saying there are prisons and workhouses for children if they are poor.
Dickens wrote: ‘The deep remembrance of the sense I had being utterly neglected and hopeless, of the shame I felt in my position, of the misery of it was to my young heart to believe that day by day, what I had learned, and thought, and delighted in, and raised my fancy and my emulation up by, was passing away from me, never to be brought back any more, cannot be written. My whole nature was so penetrated with the grief and humiliation of such considerations, that even now, famous and caressed and happy, I often forget in my dreams that I have a dear wife and children, even that I am a man and wander desolately back to that time in my life.’ (Wilson 1941).
Dickens’ book’s popularity was a financial as well as spiritual resurrection for him, just as Scrooge is resurrected into love and generosity in the story. It is a story today for Enron executives and corporate CEOs and yes even for President Bush as well as for all of us, especially those of us, and I’ll admit to it, feel more like the pre-enlightened Scrooge and our mantra is Bah, Humbug, because it so profoundly reminds us of our connection to the rest of the world, especially those in poverty and especially this season where we spend more on just wrapping paper than some folks have to live all year long.
The transformation is not just about becoming generous, it’s also about becoming aware of the ego, and how our selfishness prevents us from being part of the whole, from sharing deeply, from loving unreservedly, from trusting the universe and letting go of our need for feeling like we are in control, which by the way, we’re not! The ego os elfishness keeps us from getting along with others, especially family, yea, especially this time of year! Part of the transformation is the giving up the need to be, or even to believe that we are always right.
In Cusumanos’ book, Scrooge is psychoanalyzed, seen through Family Therapy eyes, as well as spiritual, while also looking from an Eastern view of the Chakras of our bodies. There were very few Eastern Scriptures translated into English, and interestingly, Cusumano writes that we also know from a 1976 biography by Hearns, ‘that Dickens was associated with Unitarianism during the 1840’s. Again it is possible that he may have learned of it (Eastern Chakras) through the open-minded spiritualism exhibited by this religion.’
Dickens wrote before the age of Freudian psychology, yet provides us with enough biographical information about Scrooges tortured childhood and the loss of his great adult life that it becomes a case study in what we might call common sense psychology/religion. . ‘During Scrooge’s night of transformation,’ says Cusumano, ‘Dickens provided us with a completely valid blueprint for change, which included all the fundamental principles that we, too, need to realize and deal with in order to be reborn into spiritual awareness. Those steps are brought to light as this book progresses, and it is clear that they include a combination of psychological and spiritual elements. From this nineteenth century work, we are given a glorious gift that can help make our twenty- first century world a place that reflects this psycho spiritual awakening to our true Selves. We will all be better for it.’
We are all Scrooge, of course, as much as we want ot identify with the nicer characters, our ego of selfishness, not the true needs of the self, is Scrooge personified, and must also be transformed. ‘We are also given the golden opportunity,’ Cusumanos writes,’ to project our own unresolved childhood traumas onto his blank screen, or we can project the painful pasts of significant others in our lives onto this screen. By doing so, we can learn to identify with and begin to understand our own wounded Scrooges within…’ oh sometimes these words sound like therapeutic clich’s, I thought, but once past that I realized that it was my inner Scrooge trying to rationalize away a message I needed to hear-whether from God, Scrooge, or Dickens.
‘ And we can learn to understand those wounded Scrooges surrounding us who have either negatively affected our lives in our pasts, or those who continue to dysfunctional affect our lives today. At any rate, the main point is we are not to gloss over this subtly presented information; we are to reflect on the profundity and severity of it, perhaps even own it.’
Those dream ghosts have so many different interpretations, and again, by rereading the story and not thinking in cartoon or children’s versions, the symbolism is mythological as well as spiritual. The ghosts or visions or dreams, like Biblical characters never are fully understood, since the author is long gone, and perhaps even he wrote of unconscious things.’ Scrooge’s wounded inner child was easy to locate,’ writes the author,’ The defense mechanisms he freely used in adulthood to protect himself from further pain, although life killing, were the predictable result of unresolved childhood trauma.
There is no doubt that the three dream -ghosts were performing intensive, brief, experiential psycho spiritual therapy to free him from the bonds of the past. Scrooge’s ‘three day’ trek through his unconscious mind perfectly follows the classic mythological structure known as the hero’s journey, in that he experienced the following sequential elements: departure, attainment through ordeal, and return with altered knowledge. After his reclamation, Scrooge immediately and obviously demonstrated spiritualized behavior by his ability to productively live and relate to his other ‘fellow-passengers’ of the world in a totally loving way.’
Scrooges’ journey, the working out of the problem, the attempt to solve the algebraic value of ‘X,’ is because he was not happy, though economically successful by corporate standards, where Scrooge behavior seems the norm. there are many different ways we could interpret this story, none of which might have been Dickens’ intention, but we must agree that Scrooge was not a happy, or even satisfied man and was the epitome of loneliness. Indeed, the author compares Scrooge’s conversion to people’s description of near death experiences or even alien abduction reports-both of which can be explained psychologically as well as metaphorically. Scrooge’s heart had been hardened by his abusive childhood; he could have as easily turned to a life of crime or drug or alcohol addiction to try to ease the pain.
. Cusumano talks about John Bradshaw in his book, Creating Love,(1992) of ‘people adapting to their traumas of childhood. Bradshaw discusses what he calls ‘the inevitable development of the ‘false self’ which surfaces as a direct result of parental abandonment. It attempts to mask the intense inner pain and loneliness of the neglected ‘true Self’, or wounded inner-child. The false self eventually leads people to become either ‘more than human’ by taking on the role of the abuser, or ‘less than human’ by taking on the role of the abused. Bradshaw’s teaching gift and the various facets of his extensive therapeutic endeavors have had a positive and lasting effect on thousands of people.’
The story of Scrooge, told and retold around this holiday of supposed generous giving, has often been trivialized as just another Xmas story; indeed, perhaps the reason that it is usually considered a children’s story is that it might ring just a little bit to true for those of us who are more selfish, to those of us who believe that the one with the most toys wins at our death, to those who put profit in front of people, who literally steal the pensions from the lower scale workers.
Scrooge’s ego, the author continues, ‘made his transformation extremely painful, even to the point that he ends the dream sequence staring directly at his own grave, not sure if he would be given a second chance at life or not. In his reasoning mind, he knew that the dreams were intended to maintain its existence until the bitter end, made it appear that Scrooge was the one who would die, not it.’
Scrooge was a victim of child abuse, plain and simple, not uncommon in those times or these, though we have made progress. He had to have his heart opened or touched to change his life. Joseph Campbell writes ‘when the center of the heart is touched, and a sense of compassion (is) awakened another person or creature, and you realize that you and that other are in some sense creatures of of the one life in being, a whole new stage of life in the spirit opens out. The opening of the to the world is what is symbolized mythologically as the virgin birth. It signifies the birth of a spiritual life in what was formerly an elemental human animal… It happens when you awaken at the level of the heart to compassion, com-passion, shared suffering; experienced participation in the suffering of another person. That’s the beginning of humanity.’
I like to think it was because Dickens was Unitarian that he saw beyond the religious clich’ into the deep need of humanity, the poor, especially the children, in all the world, not just England, though one must start in one’s own corner. Dickens wrote a deeply religious story that required neither Bible nor Supreme-Being God nor specific doctrines or dogma. Indeed, Scrooge’s transformation is universally religious lesson; he did not begin spouting religiously empty words, but went right to deeds.
‘ The glory of the situation,’ writes Cusumanos,’ is that Scrooge successfully went through his fear, into the light of his new life… Staring directly into his own grave, he did not succumb to his ego-induced fear. Instead, Scrooge prayed, asking his Holy Spirit within, for the first time in his adult life, to help him in a way he had always so desperately needed. His prayer, like all properly motivated prayers, was answered. His ego was defeated, once and for all. At that point, he died to his old self and was reborn spiritually. He was ready to begin his new life, living out of love instead of fear.’
As many religions teach about our inner strength, inner peace, inner divine spark, inner love, so Scrooge is changed and begins to changes the lives of those around him, like a spiritual chain reaction of love and generosity. The characters around him can also perhaps be responsible for his visions, his visits from the ghosts of the past, present, and future. His old partner, Morley, his kind mentor, Fezziwig, his nephew Fred, only child of his long dead beloved sister, Fan, who had loved him through the terrible childhood, and managed to get him back home after being sent away to a dreary and abusive boarding school, his employee Bob Cratchit and Mrs. Cratchit, and of course, Tiny Tim, the Pollyanna of the bunch, and even his once betrothed love, Belle. And perhaps most of all the vision of children he was given.
Ghost showed him children, and the author writes ‘He also allowed himself to think about the innocent children of the world who were being brutally affected by institutionalized neglect, of which he was an integral part. These anonymous children were being victimized by forces beyond their control, having no real chance for survival, given no love, broken in spirit, perverted from the life intended for them. The Spirit opened his robe, showing Scrooge something he had not previously allowed himself to realize: And here we use Dickens’ own words-
‘They were a boy and girl. Yellow, meager, ragged, scowling, wolfish, but prostrate, too, in their humility. Where graceful youth should have filled their features out, and touched them with its freshest tints, a stale and shriveled hand, like that of age, had pinched and twisted them, and pulled them into shreds. Where angels might have sat enthroned, devils lurked, and glared out menacing. No change, no degradation, no perversion of humanity, in any grade, through all the mysteries of wonderful creation, has monsters half so horrible and dread ‘(86).
When Scrooge asks who they are, Dickens’ ghost says: ‘They are Man’s. …This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased…’ Scrooge asks, ‘Have they no refuge or resource?’
‘ ‘Are there no prisons?’ said the spirit, turning on him for the last time with his own words.’ Are there no workhouses? The bell struck 12.’
Are there not still sweatshops? Still prisons where we in this 21st century still put away the poor and abused, even executing the worst and most violent of the poor and abused children .
Dickens wrote stories that give society warnings in many of his books, but especially this one where Scrooge has the opportunity to change. what Cusumano describes as ‘ our shamefully pervasive mistreatment of children. He clearly prophesied that if we don’t heed his warning to change this situation, as a society, we will all suffer from the dire consequences that will inevitably result from this shameful neglect. Unfortunately and appallingly, what he foretold has already, to a large degree, come to pass. So far, we have survived these horrors. If we do not wake up to his warning soon, however, we will not be able to survive the chaos and destruction our mass denial engenders.’
The recent series on the poverty stricken Mt. Pleasant area o East Cleveland is about s scrooge system which has not yet been spiritually enlightened. The Black activist author, Geoffrey Canada has been often quoted, His books were pubished by our own Beacon press, and he is a common speaker at our General Assemblies, because he is working in Harlem hands on, to effect change, It’s what must happen in this country, in Cleveland and elsewhere. The scrooge of social justice must be transformed as well. The story of Jesus is one of poverty, of unwed mothers, of being stuck in an oppressive system.
The metaphor of this season is that hope and love is born in what traditional religion calls the ‘Christ child,’ a wonderful metaphor about a special child who will change the world by preach love above all doctrine and even denomination, and live out a life cut short, in his prime, if you will. Peace on earth and goodwill to men and women is a wonderful message to sing about in this time of cold and shortened days. Love one another and also yourself. The kingdom of God is within-everybody, not just a certain religious few. This metaphor laden season is an absolute patchwork quilt of meanings and interpretations from the worlds religions.
We realize that we need each other. Luciano De Creschenzo: ‘We are each of us angels with only one wing, and we can only fly embracing one another.’
I love to sing the Xmas carols and I like to hear them even as dreaded mall Muzak think of them as being in Latin. Don’t fight them; play along with the myth as well as the myrrh, frankincense and don’t forget the Gold. The story of Scrooge also tells us that we are never to old to change! The message of Jesus still rings true today of love and peace, of committing one;s life to serving the good, of finding religious meaning in our own ways. Let this season work its magic on us; let the Scrooge in all of us be transformed, awakened, kindled into roaring fire of love and compassion, working for a world of love and justice for all.
‘Peace’ in English,’ Shalom’ in Hebrew, ‘Salaam,’ in Arabic; and love, understanding, generosity ; in Spanish, ‘Abrazos a todos,’ hugs all around, ‘Vaya can Su Dios,’ Go with your idea of God, ‘Feliz Navidad’ – Merry Xmas, and finally, have a satisfying Solstice
We Pray for Children . . Ina J. Hughs
We pray for children
who sneak popsicles before supper,
who erase holes in math workbooks,
who can never find their shoes.
And we pray, for those
who stare at photographers from behind barbed wire,
who can’t bound down the street in a new pair of sneakers,
who never “counted potatoes,”
who are born in places where we wouldn’t be caught dead,
who never go to the circus,
who live in an X-rated world.
We pray for children
who bring us sticky kisses and fistfuls of dandelions,
who hug us in a hurry and forget their lunch money.
And we pray for those
who never get dessert,
who have no safe blanket to drag behind them,
who watch their parents watch them die,
who can’t find any bread to steal,
who don’t have any rooms to clean up,
whose pictures aren’t on anybody’s dresser,
whose monsters are real.
We pray for children
- who spend all their allowance before Tuesday,
who throw tantrums in the grocery store and pick at their food,
who like ghost stories,
who shove dirty clothes under the bed,
and never rinse out the tub,
who get visits from the tooth fairy,
who don’t like to be kissed in front of the carpool,
who squirm in church or temple and scream in the phone,
whose tears we sometimes laugh at
and whose smiles can make us cry.
And we pray for those
whose nightmares come in the daytime,
who will eat anything,
who have never seen a dentist,
who aren’t spoiled by anybody,
who go to bed hungry and cry themselves to sleep,
who live and move, but have no being.
We pray for children
who want to be carried and for those who must,
for those we never give up on
and for those who don’t get a second chance.
For those we smother . . .
and for those who will grab the hand of anybody
kind enough to offer it.
Please offer your hands to them so that no child is left behind
because we did not act.