As this holiday season arrives, we at Westside are turning our attention to the ways that celebrations of the season bring us together. We are paying attention not only to the connections between friends and family members, but also between communities and people around the world. Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and other holiday celebrations give people who live far distant from one another a feeling of being close through shared traditions, values and activities. They also can give us the sense that, despite other differences in geography, culture, and lifestyle, we are more alike than different.
We’ll also be talking about how complicated it can be to reconcile the differences with the similarities. How can two individuals, or two groups, or two nations, who share such common values as hope, love, compassion, generosity, and all the other ‘feelings of the season’ be so different in such essential ways? How can we be so alike and yet so unlike those from different political groups and different religions? This is truly a paradox, and it is something we must strive to hold, in all its complexity.
This last few weeks, the choir has been practicing a number of songs from other cultures—much of them in other languages—for our holiday services. And we have been discovering just how tricky ‘translation’ can be. It’s not just the words—which are almost impossible to translate one-to-one in a direct way—but it’s also the tunes, the metrics, the harmonies. This is an apt metaphor for connecting with other cultures in general. While we may all agree to the tune of “Silent Night,” we have different interpretations of the specific meanings, which are revealed by the actual words choices different cultures adopt in singing this popular hymn. Just so, though we may all agree that ‘hope’ is a good thing, we may translate that very differently into actions, goals, and guidelines for behavior.
So, as we consider all those around us—our immediate families, our friends, and our neighbors, and also our larger communities, our state, our nation and our world—let’s ask ourselves this: can I hold the complexity of all the ways we are both different, and the same? Can I honor all this complexity, and find peace in the mix that is human relationship?
Wishing you a sense of depth and richness, in all that the holidays have to offer.