It was a family tradition not to be missed at Christmas - a live performance of Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker." Dressed in our Sunday best, we filed into the large hall and took our seats down front. Our children leaned forward, legs swinging, eager to see the dancers bring to life once again the classic story they knew and loved so well.
I had always shared their delight. But as pulleys creaked and the velvet curtain rose, my heart sank. I've seen this ballet one too many times, I thought. I knew what would be coming at every turn - the adults' stately dances in the party scene, the stout grandmother's jig that leaves her collapsing into a chair, the mysterious Drosselmeyer twirling his black cape as he performs his magic. Like the life-sized dolls that step stiffly out of Drosselmeyer's giant boxes, all the dancers looked to me like wind-up toys, carrying out their prescribed choreography.
Was this a reflection of the way I had come to celebrate Christmas? Was my entire Christmas season already choreographed? Cutting a full-sized tree and decorating it, baking quadruple batches of cookies, rushing from errand to errand so I could tick off items on my long shopping list, wrapping brown paper packages for 25 relatives, and attending a number of mandatory functions. No wonder the tinsel had faded.
But while I sat there watching the ballet, I longed for that childlike sense that sees and feels the beauty and joy of the holidays for the first time. I couldn't bear to think that I was losing - through age, stress, or whatever - the inspiration and delight that I'd always felt at Christmas.
I prayed with a deep desire to see the spiritual beauty that I knew was as present as God. I was echoing the psalm that reads, "One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple" (Psalms 27:4). The beauty I was longing to see was the beauty of Soul, Spirit, which is permanent and as solidly real as Truth.
All during the performance I prayed this way. And I watched for evidences of that beauty. I focused intently on the graceful limbs of the dancers, the shimmering costumes, the elaborate, dazzling scenery, and the precise harmony between movement and music. But it all seemed nothing more than an old routine. Then the ballet was over. The dancers were taking their bows.
Finally, the Sugarplum Fairy glided forward and lowered herself onto one knee. Her tiara radiated sparks of light as she bowed her head slowly, then lifted her chin. Because of where we were sitting - far to the right - I could see at one time the luminous smile on the face of this dancer and her audience in the shadows. That's when my prayer was answered.
Catching things from her point of view, I glimpsed in her expression the joy of deep-down giving. Here was a young woman, I suddenly realized, who had given herself - probably since she was a child - to the work she so loved. Now she was sharing her gift, and it was being warmly received by an appreciative audience. I saw in her face the beauty of grace, gratitude, humility, love. Not only did I see it. I felt this beauty as surprisingly wonderful. When we left that concert hall, I felt buoyed by fresh inspiration and joy.
We all have the God-given capacity to see and be moved by the beauty of the spiritual qualities expressed around us, to express those qualities ourselves, and so to rediscover the spontaneous loveliness of Christmas. These qualities are never really gone because they are spiritual, not emotional. They come from pure Spirit, or divine Love, which is always present.
I love to observe Christmas
in quietude, humility, benevolence, charity,
letting good will towards man, eloquent silence, prayer, and praise express my conception
of Truth's appearing.
Mary Baker Eddy
(Founder of Christian Science)