In The Empty Mirror, Janwillem Van De Wetering tells this story:

There was a Zen master in Japan who never learned to read or write. So profound was his ignorance of the outside world that he didn’t realize there were religions other than Buddhism until he heard some monks discussing Christianity. When he asked one of them to explain Christianity to him, the monk handed him the Bible.

“That’s a thick book,” the master said, “and I can’t read. But you can read something to me.”

The monk turned to the Sermon on the Mount and began to read aloud. The more he read, the more the master was impressed. “That is beautiful,” he kept saying. “That is very beautiful.”

When the monk finished, the master said nothing for a while. The silence lasted so long that the monk put the Bible down and started meditating.

“Yes,” the teacher said finally. “I don’t know who wrote that, but what you read there is the essence of everything I have been trying to teach you here.”

I’m moved by the story. It reminds me that, despite our differences, we’re all sitting under the same tree: some worship the roots, others the leaves. We call ourselves Christians or Muslims or Buddhists or Jews, or maybe we don’t call ourselves anything at all, but truth always sneaks up behind us, whispering words we never expected to hear. Maybe they’re the words of an illiterate Zen master — or a Jewish carpenter. Maybe truth whispers to us in the struggle for social justice or in our silent appreciation of great art. Maybe truth arrives in a blinding flash, a revelation too sexy to ignore: God swinging Her hips.

After twenty-one years as editor of The Sun, I’m still trying to honor truth without making a religion of it; to be self-revealing without being self-indulgent; to remember that being uncertain is honorable, but being a spiritual wise guy isn’t.

Shall I admit, then, that the spirit of Christmas often eludes me? That sometimes the holiday seems to celebrate something big and beautiful, and sometimes it leaves me cold? I see people hurrying from store to store, worrying whether they’re spending too much or not enough. Sometimes I do it, too, forgetting that what brings joy to another’s heart isn’t just my gift but my love.


Perhaps, this holiday season, The Sun would make an appropriate gift for someone you care about. Once again this year, we extend our holiday offer: If you order a one-year gift subscription at $32, you may order additional one-year subscriptions at half price — only $16 each. There’s no limit on the number of half-price subscriptions you may give. (We’re sorry, but you can’t renew your own subscription as part of this offer. )

Or you may want to order one of our anthologies: A Bell Ringing In The Empty Sky: The Best Of The Sun; Sunbeams: A Book Of Quotations; or Four In The Morning: Essays By Sy Safransky. For book prices, see our back cover. We guarantee delivery of books before December 25 on orders received before December 14.

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Sy Safransky
Editor, The Sun