CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The gift was early. Very early.
Several months before Christmas, a dear friend directed me to a read that would, by the time I reached the last word, impact not only my life but countless friends' lives in ways that would have never seemed possible to any of us. It was to be for each of us the most profound work we had ever read.
We were all searching -- had been for most of our lives, not only at the holiday season -- for the meaning of the true spirit of Christmas. We were also searching for that delicate balance between service to others and attainment of our own personal agendas. We all have them, as members of the secular world, and the struggle to maintain that balance can be, at times, quite precarious.
In 1955, German philosopher Martin Heidegger wrote his address, "Gelassenheit," prophesizing that the resultant indifference created by the technology revolution (i.e., the calculated way of thinking) had resulted in throwing away our ability to reflect, something we are particularly called to do as the year nears its end.
And, it seems that he was way ahead of his time, as the prophecy has indeed materialized. This address was highlighted -- among other equally charged revelations -- 33 years later in a work titled "The Road to Daybreak: A Spiritual Journey" by Henri Nouwen, a Catholic priest whose quest to achieve spiritual balance took him from an inner darkness, feelings of rejection, need for affirmation and affection, and a deep sense of not belonging, to recognizing that we are each called to be joyful. That we can, indeed, choose joy. And it is in the recognition of that invitation that we might begin to feel less rejected, more deeply loved, and more closely connected to ourselves, our families and our friends.
As he chronicles his journey from a professor at Harvard Divinity School to his decision to commit his time and energies to serving at a community for mentally ill and handicapped adults, visions of George Bailey's journey from "It's a Wonderful Life" rush with beauty to the surface, as Nouwen realizes that it is in his own powerlessness, hiddenness and littleness that grandeur resides.
It is in forgiving each other for not being who we want to be for each other that we are brought to that littleness and that sense of peace and joy. While how we get there is both an individual and a universal journey, it is not, as Sean Connery's character reminds us in the movie "Finding Forrester," "a soup question, is it?"
At this time of year especially, and as the new year dawns, we, like Nouwen, hear the screams of the "seductive world" vying for our attention. And it is in that vein that we find some solace, knowing that the road to redemption is fraught with peril, yet destined to gift to each of us the promise of peace and joy that not only the season, but our daily lives can offer.
That, indeed, is the gift. And for those of us touched by this read, that indeed is gratitude.
Jacobs lives in Charleston.