Maureen Pratt

Do you struggle with packaging?

I have just opened a fresh box containing an over-the-counter pain reliever and now need a double dose because of the discomfort caused by the act of prying the lid off the bottle.

My neighbors probably think I ordered all of my Christmas gifts in one purchase because of the huge cardboard shipping “crate” blocking my front door — but all I did was order a few, small items from an online retailer.

And oh, the puzzle of plastic wrapping tightly around my latest compact disc purchase. I really didn’t need my fingernails, did I?

Whether groceries or new gizmos for our home office, packaging seems to have hit a new high of abundance and new low of ease of removal. I understand childproofing and theft-deterring, but when you would do well to buy a tool to remove what wraps on or around an ordinary item, well, doesn’t that seem a bit too much?

Lately, I reveled in shopping at a local farmer’s market, where you bring your own bag and select your own, unpackaged produce. The joy of such immediacy was utterly refreshing! I could smell the sweet/tart apples, feel the smooth texture of the eggplant and test the ripeness of heirloom tomatoes — all while enjoying color and contrast sans a coating of plastic that would otherwise dull their beauty.

The more unfettered shopping, and the upcoming gift-giving season, which brings with it a greatly ramped- and wrapped-up kind of packaging, made me wonder about some ways that we could simplify the whole boxed-in issue to give our gifts, tangible or not, a more direct entree into our lives and to share them more (pardon the pun) organically with others.

Inner joy fueled by the Holy Spirit, when expressed in a smile that reaches into the eyes is all the more contagious when we don’t try to couch it in endless explanations of what, concretely, makes us glow. Perhaps scientists might need to dissect such emotion, but we don’t need to in order to share it.

Compassion need not be confined to a specific time and place. If we open our eyes wider as we move about the day, we’ll see many opportunities to assist someone in need. Opening a door and holding it for someone to pass. Speaking a random, kind word. These and other acts don’t require elaborate calendaring.

Worship as a community, when focused as reverent prayer and not production, allows us to breathe into the liturgy, listen without distraction to the readings and come together more gratefully at the eucharistic table.

The Christmas season is full of opportunities to pare down our packaging and let the warm glow of light that is the true meaning of the time shine widely. Gifts handcrafted, however simply, contain that extra bit of ourselves that is worth more than any expensive purchase. Food home-cooked, even if a little singed, extends love. And words, simple words: “I love you,” “Thank you,” “I care,” can be more profound than the most elaborate, glitter-dusted card.

We can, of course, recycle all that cardboard and plastic containing whatever we buy. But it will soon be remade into more boxes and wrappers, arriving on the doorstep again. Over time, we might become weary of receive-recycle-receive.

But less packaged forms of expression and care become something else entirely when given away — they thread through our lives and connect us with one another and Christ, and arrive back home, not as the “same old,” but something wonderful, joy-filled and new.