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Frank’s 2004 Christmas Letter PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, December 21 2004 19:00
My friend Frank in Kalamazoo always writes spiritually provocative letters at Christmas. This year he wonders what Jesus would have been like “if he had gotten to be seventy-five like me.”

Frank loves Christmas but complains that it doesn’t tell him much about being old. Of the beginnings of life, this event speaks eloquently. It celebrates important things, he says, like poverty and smallness. And it lifts up important people, not CEOs, but shepherds and the Magi from the East.

But the gospels say precious little about old age, Frank regrets. “There are times,” he writes, “when I think one of the limitations of the gospels is that there is lots of good news for people up to about thirty, but not much for the geezers.”

This generalization may be true by and large; however, one of the most beautiful passages in the gospels is surely St. Luke’s depiction of the old people Simeon and Anna seeing the child Jesus and feeling fulfilled in their lives.    

My friend is sure that all people, even if they die young like Jesus, carry their beginnings and scars with them as they move through life. What he loves about growing old are the new challenges that come along, things that he never would have dreamed of when young.

For example, he has been learning about Chinese religion and Buddhism, only to be amazed at the connections with his own Christian tradition. He now wonders if there were more Messiahs than “my beloved Saviour, more than one person who saw the shallowness of great deeds and the depth of being true to yourself, deeds or no deeds.”

To his satisfaction, he also finds that women play a vital role in Chinese religion, the way they do in the Christian gospels. He takes note of the reality that, from Jesus’ day till ours, many Christians have been embarrassed to acknowledge this role.

When he was 30, Frank admits, he did not know about other great spiritual leaders who “saw some of the same deep things that are at the heart of my own Christianity.” This discovery makes him joyful as he realizes that his own people do not have a corner on holiness. Those others deserve his reverence because they, too, belong to the Kingdom of God that Jesus speaks of so frequently.

Working toward a fine frenzy of a conclusion, Frank speaks from his vantage point of oncoming old age:

“And so, sitting in this old bag of bones, I wish you all a joyful Christmas and I remind you and myself that these Ones who come from the East are part of the mysteries of Christmas, harbingers of later insights on the part of us who, when we were young, thought we were the sole possessors of holiness, salvation, and the Kingdom of God.”

Frank is clearly feeling his age, but he continues to strike me as more alive than a great many of the rest of us. His enthusiasm for the things of the spirit seems rarely to flag. Like everybody else, he has his down moments, but they invariably give way to new hope.

He also displays a remarkably affective relationship with Jesus, his Messiah. His words addressed to the Lord are often familiar and endearing. And Frank, despite his now advanced years, still regards himself as a work in progress. Seeing his life as open-ended, he looks forward toward continued discovery and spiritual adventure.

Reading his letter not only gladdens my heart but encourages me to live in the same spirit that he manifests. I admire the way he allows the mysteries of faith to suffuse his life. Pondering the events of sacred history, he draws from them food for his soul.

Another influence pushing him in the direction of joy is seeing his two sons living “the early years of their married lives, each with an altogether remarkable woman.” They also reside in Kalamazoo, a vicinity that much pleases Frank. And he also welcomes into retirement his own wife who has been a psychotherapist for almost 25 years.

For this old friend of mine, it all makes for a merry Christmas the joy of which he extends to me and all his other friends as well. This is an old fashioned letter that is good for the soul.

Richard Griffin