[I taught a daylong on Compassion for Self and Others at Spirit Rock Meditation Center two weekends ago. As part of learning about the power of common humanity to deepen our compassion, I showed the video linked below on Christmas Truce 1914. Based on actual events at the beginning of World War I, when English and German soldiers heard each other singing “Silent Night” or Stille Nacht” on Christmas Eve. Their commanders declared a 24-hour truce and soldiers got to play soccer, show photos of loved ones and share chocolate. It really happened. This year, on the 100th anniversary of the Christmas Truce, Sainsbury, a large supermarket chain in London, re-created the story in an advert that has gone viral. Treat yourself to a deeply moving understanding of how common humanity and compassion are more powerful than war and hostility.
Then enjoy the wisdom of Fra Giovanni’s letter on Christmas Eve, 1513:
[Fra Giovanni Giocondo (c.1435-1515) was a Renaissance pioneer, accomplished as an architect, engineer, antiquary, archaeologist, classical scholar, and Franciscan friar. Today we remember him most for his reassuring letter to Countess Allagia Aldobrandeschi on Christmas Eve, 1513, a perennial favorite in these weekly quotes.]
I salute you. I am your friend, and my love for you goes deep. There is nothing I can give you which you have not. But there is much, very much, that, while I cannot give it, you can take. No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in it today. Take heaven! No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present little instant.
Take peace! The gloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within our reach, is joy. There is radiance and glory in darkness, could we but see. And to see, we have only to look. I beseech you to look!
Life is so generous a giver. But we, judging its gifts by their covering, cast them away as ugly or heavy or hard. Remove the covering, and you will find beneath it a living splendor, woven of love by wisdom, with power. Welcome it, grasp it, and you touch the angel’s hand that brings it to you.
Everything we call a trial, a sorrow or a duty, believe me, that angel’s hand is there. The gift is there and the wonder of an overshadowing presence. Your joys, too, be not content with them as joys. They, too, conceal diviner gifts.
Life is so full of meaning and purpose, so full of beauty beneath its covering, that you will find earth but cloaks your heaven. Courage then to claim it; that is all! But courage you have, and the knowledge that we are pilgrims together, wending through unknown country home.
– Fra Giovanni Giocondo