I know what most everyone wants this Christmas?#34;or Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Eid or anything else that gets lumped into “the holidays” these days?#34;even if you don’t celebrate any of the above.

What we want is to feel safe.

It’s all most of us have ever wanted. Our lives are so often determined by our drive to seek security, and so many lives are defined by the failure to secure it. Feeling unsafe causes people?#34;and entire countries?#34;to justify behavior that can’t otherwise be justified. The War on Terror, for instance, has prompted many Americans to support an unnecessary, pre-emptive war and the mistreatment of anyone even suspected of being a terrorist. We consider ourselves a moral people, but we’re willing to make exceptions when we don’t feel safe.

Human beings have never felt safe, but since 9/11 our normal insecurity has reached a level of near-hysteria. We never dreamed we could be so vulnerable. Hurricane Katrina provided a powerful reminder of just how vulnerable we remain.

The result is a country with a bunker mentality. “National security” is our obsession, and we seem all too eager to trade civil liberties for the mere illusion of feeling safer.

It won’t work. It never has.

People who feel insecure crave control. If chaos is being out of control, they reason, order is being in control. In recent years, we’ve become a society of control freaks, which too often takes the form of trying to control the people in our lives.

How do people control fear? Denial and self-medication are popular options. Religious extremism, too. If God is in control of everything, we don’t have to be. Of course, it doesn’t explain why God would totally freak us out from time to time with 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, or whatever’s waiting right around the corner. Even explaining everything in terms of God’s will doesn’t make us feel safe. If Christians really believed in Christianity, death would lose its power over us.

Belonging to a strong community helps. Friends, family, church, work, farmers’ markets, neighborhood bars or restaurants, dog parks, waiting with other parents at the school bus stop or on soccer sidelines, block parties, progressive dinners, sports, book groups, front-porch gatherings, wherever you find it?#34;community can be a powerful antidote to fear. Our connections reinforce the notion that we’re not alone in the universe.

Writer Richard Rohr quotes Albert Einstein near the end of his life saying, “Now I see that the only question is: ‘Is the universe friendly?'” Rohr says we have to enlarge our consciousness beyond the ego?#34;i.e. our small-picture, everyday awareness. The ego is the judgmental control freak in us. “Our culture,” Rohr writes in his book Everything Belongs, “teaches us that everything out there is hostile. We have to compare, dominate, contol, and insure. In brief, we have to be in charge. That need to be in charge moves us deeper and deeper into a world of anxiety.”

The first step, Rohr suggests, is contemplation/meditation, which moves us beyond the ego so we can experience our larger, truer selves.

“The gift of true religion,” he writes, “is that it parts the veil, returns us to the garden and tells us that we live in a benevolent universe, and it is on our side. The universe, it reassures us, is radical grace. Therefore, we do not need to be afraid. … Knowing this, we can relax and let go.”

The most common single line in the Bible, he reminds us, is Jesus saying, “Do not be afraid.” I suspect Jesus was born into a world with much the same level of fear and insecurity.

Letting go, expanding beyond our limited egos, and giving up our dependence on fear?#34;these are the real gifts of the magi. I hope they find their way to all of you this holiday season.

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