Tuesday, 24 December 2013

PAULA PERUSES AT CHRISTMAS:A Christmas Carol and life’s Spiritual journey.

A Christmas Carol and life’s spiritual journey.

A Christmas Carol is probably one of the world’s all time favourite Christmas stories apart from The Nativity, the birth of Jesus.  I have always loved the story; it is one that embodies all that is good in Christian values and it encapsulates some of the key aspects to Christianity: soul searching, spiritual enlightenment, atonement and redemption.  These are all elements of most religions and you don’t have to be a Christian to recognise them. For me, these are the rudiments of life’s spiritual pathway and are the mile stones that we achieve throughout our journey, usually in that order.  To enable us to achieve a state of physical peace and mental tranquillity, one must embark on these rites of passage and in order to fully do this, one must aquire some form of serenity.

The way I have come to see it is, that on earth, we have three dimensions: the mind, the body and the spirit. For most of us, we start out in life bearing all of these and all must be kept in good order to function calmly and serenely, without bitterness, rancour and hate.  Sadly, along life’s journey we encounter many hardships and difficult experiences at varying degrees and this, though we endeavour to not allow it, causes our spiritual well-being to fall by the wayside.   Part of us is missing and we become like the hole in the donut, some more so than others, like Mr Scrooge.

This journey would normally take someone a lifetime but for poor Mr Scrooge it happens overnight. Mr Scrooge has spent a large part of his life being plain mean, putting his own well being and financial security before those of others and sometimes at their expense, especially poor Mr Cratchit who works for him in hard conditions. In one whole night, Mr Scrooge is whisked off by his demons of the past and future whose task it is to set Mr Scrooge on the path to salvation. In order to do this, he will be visited one by one, first by the ghost of Christmas Past, then Christmas Present and lastly Christmas Yet to Come.

The opening stave, as Dickens referred to the chapters of his book, commences on a "cold, bleak, biting" Christmas Eve, seven years to the day that his old business partner Jacob Marley died: a like-minded fellow, miserly like Scrooge, mean and grasping, scraping and clutching, just as Scrooge, alive, is. He hates Christmas, calling it "humbug" and has earlier refused to accept his concerned nephew Fred's invitation to dine with him and his friends and  Scrooge turns away two gentlemen who arrive seeking charity for the poor’s Christmas dinner.  As his wretched overworked and underpaid clerk Bob Cratchit leaves to go home from work, Scrooge is moaning to himself as he shuts up his office that allowing Bob a day off to celebrate Christmas day with his large family with pay is "a poor excuse for picking a man's pocket every twenty-fifth of December!”

Later that night Scrooge is visited by Marley's ghost, dragging heavy chains about his person, representing his sinful qualities of greed and selfishness. He tells Scrooge that he must change his mean and woeful ways for alas, his future will be squandered through his own wicked deeds. The terrified Scrooge is forced to listen to the wraith of Marley, wailing in a ghostlike manner, that under no uncertain terms should Scrooge ignore his warning or he will be cursed as he to endure the fate that Marley now suffers, should he not change his ways.  He will be visited by three spirits of Christmas who will reveal his fate throughout the night. Scrooge is then forced to observe as many more such ghostly creatures as his old friend Marley, follow as Marley leaves Scrooge, to ponder upon what he has heard.

Throughout life we do not heed the warnings that precede our actions. We have watched many a time as our friends or siblings, growing to adulthood make wrong financial, relationship and life choices and yet knowledge avails us nothing. We are like fish floundering on the dry shore. Some fortunately may have the wisdom to learn by others' mistakes; they are the lucky ones. They have been taught well by their parents.  But there are those who will ignore their parents' good advice and although the warning signs are there, we ignore them until like Scrooge, we are forced to sit up and take notice. Our fate has to be thrust under our noses time and time again before we learn that very useful lesson. How many times have we said to the god we only believe in when our backs are against the wall, “God if you only get me out if this scrape one more time, I’ll never ever do it again, I promise”?

The first spirit arrives just as Mr Marley has predicted. This is the Spirit of Christmas Past; it announces as the terrified Scrooge finally begins to believe that his experience earlier with the ghost of Marley could actually have happened after all. The spirit announces that it has come to take him on a journey to his past and we are whisked away to the scenes of his boyhood, lonely and fearful, sent away after his mother dies. His close relationship with his sister Fanny was his one solace, who later, is taken sadly from him after giving birth to her son.  These scenes play out before Scrooge and we see his tender side as he remembers who these poor souls are and he is eventually taken to a scene where he attends a Christmas party given by his first employer Mr Fezziwig, a kindhearted soul whose qualities never transferred to Scrooge, sadly. He fondly recognises his ex-fiancée, Belle, who leaves him that night after realising that she is not the number one entity in his heart. No that was reserved for  that root of all evil, money. Watching these scenes, we see him almost wrestle with himself. What a fool he was to let that kind woman go. Pragmatically, Scrooge goes back to bed after his little expedition, accepting that what is past is past. Still Scrooge has not made up his mind that he should heed Marley’s words and change his ways.

The second spirit arrives later and introduces itself as the Ghost of Christmas Past, who shows him the whole of London celebrating Christmas, including Fred, his sister’s son whose invitation to dine he had turned down, and the Cratchit family who, despite their impoverished state, still appear to be enjoying the evening with what they have and their love for each other. Scrooge is particularly moved by the plight of little tiny Tim Cratchit who is very ill. The spirit tells him that Tim’s plight will be worsened...unless something changes.

The spirit then produces two misshapen, sickly children he names Ignorance and Want. When Scrooge asks if they have anyone to care for them, the spirit throws Scrooge's own words back in his face: "Are there no prisons, no workhouses?" With these words ringing in his ears, Scrooge is sent back to his warm comfy bed to ponder further on what he has seen.

Lastly, the Spirit of Christmas Yet to Come arrives to take Scrooge on his final journey into the future to see what has become of all those people he has encountered that night.  He is taken a year forward to Christmas Day one year later and just as the Spirit of Christmas Present has foretold to him earlier, Tiny Tim has died and it is revealed to Scrooge that the reason for this was because his father could not afford proper care on his very meager wage that Scrooge pays him.  Scrooge is devastated as he realises that he could have prevented this from happening by paying Bob a wage he deserved.

The spirit and Scrooge move on, for there is yet more to come.  Scrooge encounters a scene where a “wretched man” has died. The deceased’s business associates are discussing that they will only attend the funeral if lunch is laid on and it seems that his housekeeper and laundress have stolen his property and sold it whilst a young couple are relieved to find out that he is dead so they now have extra time to pay off their debt. Scrooge is shocked that there is no one who feels sorry for this poor wretch. The spirit shows him the man’s tombstone and he weeps over his own grave, appealing to the spirit to allow him to change his ways so that he might prevent his death in a year's time.

Scrooge  promises that he will do all he can to be a better person. The Spirit of Christmas Yet to Come leaves him, sobbing and praying piteously for mercy until he finds himself awakening to morning and it is Christmas Day at last. His night of revelation is over and he cannot believe he is alive. So grateful is he that he immediately repents and becomes a model of generosity and kindness, visiting Fred and giving Cratchit a raise. As the final narration states, "Many laughed to see this alteration in him, but he let them laugh and little heeded them, for he knew that no good thing in this world ever happened, at which some did not have their fill of laughter. His own heart laughed and that was quite enough for him. And it was always said of him that he knew how to keep Christmas well if any man alive possessed the knowledge."

At this conclusion, we know that Tiny Tim will now live, because Bob will now earn the money he should for the work he does and he will be able to make a difference in other ways to others, for he is now a generous, kind and compassionate man who lives beyond next Christmas and many more.

Charles Dickens was deeply concerned with the plight of the poor and those who were unable to take care of themselves. His attitudes toward social problems are embedded throughout his works.  Through his character Scrooge he was able to wield a double edged sword; he pricked at the consciences of the better off by raising awareness of the plight of the poor and influenced people’s attitudes by educating their ignorance and enabling them to understand that want is not a punishment for being poor, but an affliction that is compounded by being poor. The other side of the sword was that he also showed that no one was beyond redemption and that if humanity opened their eyes and saw what was staring them in the face, they might be enabled to change their human shortcomings and show compassion for people who cannot help themselves. His stories assist the readers to examine their own defects of character and show that like Scrooge, they too can change and receive redemption.

During the first visitation of Marley, Scrooge is given a warning that he will be visited by three spirits who will judge him and show him the error of his ways. It is up to Scrooge then, to make the necessary changes to make a difference and the reward will be longevity of life. We all get this chance in life to make changes. Often the future is revealed to us in ways that only we can understand. If we don’t stop drinking, we might kill ourselves by damaging our organs. If we don’t stop smoking, we might kill ourselves by damaging our lungs. If we don’t stop our excesses we may kill ourselves by damaging our heart and arteries. If we don’t stop making highly risky choices, we may damage our minds and our bodies and end up in an early grave. Remember, we are mind body and spirit, we need good health in all of those areas and what we do can affect them for life.

We can often reflect as Scrooge does, on past mistakes that have led us to difficult circumstances. Should we be stupid enough to squander our money, lavishing gifts on people who neither deserve our consideration or love, nor need it? Neither should we be miserly and put money before our loved ones so that like Scrooge, we lose the best people we could ever have in our lives and our chances at happiness? We need to find balance and we need to learn the lessons of our past so that we do not need to retake the lessons we have been given.  Nor should we wallow in self pity when life’s chances pass us by or we are caused trauma in our lives, unwarranted and totally blameless. Should we then seek to revenge ourselves on others? Where is the satisfaction in that? No, the best revenge in life is to get on with life and make a success of it.

Looking at our current state after pondering on the past, hopefully we now look back to our former trespasses and bad choices when thinking about how we should react to a difficult or life changing situation and think, been there, done that, not going to make that mistake again. Whether it be reacting to someone’s bad behaviour, ignoring someone’s good behaviour or kindness, taking up a job, falling in love, moving house, taking that gamble, whatever the decision to be made is, we have to at some point in our lives reach that milestone where we decide to not repeat the mistakes of our past, but in order to reach this plane of enlightenment, we need to examine the past, some more than others, but examine it we must. For if we are to achieve any happiness or serenity in our lives, we must move forward. But keep in mind, we will never achieve a Godlike state. Progress, not perfection must be the order of the day.

Finally, faced with our ultimate fears, we look to the future.  Like Scrooge in the last phase of his spiritual journey, we have reached a level of relative understanding. We now know that continuing to act as self propelled, self seeking beings, making and acting on our decisions that are based on self rather than proper use of will, we will fail as our past has shown. We will become, if we are not already, bitter, twisted and selfish, like the unenlightened Scrooge, and happiness will never reach us. We will never fill the hole in the donut; the hole in our soul.

Sometimes like Scrooge who hears his nephew and his business associates talking in a disparaging manner about him, we may hear others’ opinions of us that veritably shock us. This will teach us that we never see ourselves as others do. It’s a hard lesson to learn, that perhaps we are not as honest, kind, considerate and moralistic as we thought we were. People will not remember the good qualities we possess whilst our defects are glaringly obvious for all to see on a daily basis. After all, we are only trying to help people when we talk about them behind their back, or overly criticise our work colleagues or friends, aren't we? No, of course we are not trying to make ourselves feel better about ourselves by pointing out other peoples shortcomings. We do this to help others don’t we? And of course, we always forgive those who upset us, as Jesus teaches us. Of course there are some exceptions, if we don’t like a person because they have really trespassed upon our self esteem, why should we? And what do you mean forgiveness is better for our souls? Surely forgiveness only helps those who deserve our forgiveness. It is not for our benefit that we forgive?...Or is it?

 This year, as I dwell on the year gone by, reflect on what has been good and bad in my life and how I may have grown as a person, I look at where I could have done better, how I could have avoided my wrongdoings and how I can put what I can right. How can I be a better person, not how can I help others to be better. A Christmas Carol reflects what many of us hope to achieve, true happiness: a happiness when what gives you joy, does not come from any person, place or thing, but rather from what one can do, however small, to make a difference in the world. Being kind to others, giving rather than receiving and as in that lovely poem, "Desiridata"  by  Max Erhmann:

Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time. Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals; and everywhere life is full of heroism. Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass. Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.



  1. Thank you for such a lovely, thought-provoking seasonal post, Paula - and may you enjoy a very merry Christmas and a happy, peaceful and prosperous New Year

  2. God bless us, every one! Merry Christmas to one and all

  3. That was beautiful Paula. As Simon says, thought provoking. The story of Scrooge is a truly allegorical tale for Christmas.

  4. This is so thought provoking Paula. . Fantastic post .

  5. Thought provoking indeed! Such a lovely article touching on a wonderful piece of literature but also of our internal selves. Have a very merry Christmas, Paula, and a wonderful New Year!