by Christine Sine
I am already thinking about Christmas and what I want to accomplish during the upcoming festive season. It may seem a little early, but as we head into what for most of us is the busiest time of the year we need to be ready. Halloween, All Saints Day, Thanksgiving, Advent and Christmas are almost here. What is meant to be an exciting celebration of the awe and wonder of Christ’s coming in human form to dwell amongst us, has instead become a season of overwork, exhaustion, and burn out. Added to that this year is the burden of our heavy hearts reacting to the devastation in Puerto Rico from hurricane Maria, the shooting in Las Vegas, earthquakes in Mexico and so many other disasters around the world. We might be getting ready to sing Joy to the world, but our spirits are far from joyful and even at the best of times it is hard for us to enter into the awe and wonder of the seasons.
Unfortunately, as I have mentioned before, research also suggests that we are awe deprived. We spend more time working and commuting and less time in nature, involved in art and music or with other people, the main situations that invoke awe and wonder. How do we prepare and enable our families and congregations to really celebrate with awe and wonder the coming of Christ and the impact he has on our world?
Partly for these reasons, I have chosen the theme Joy to the World for my reflections this year and invite you to join me. In the next couple of weeks I intend to put together a weekly plan for the season, a garden to help me center, and a series of questions to help me focus. I am starting with the question: How do I prepare for the joy of Christ’s birth? and would love your thoughts on this.
More than anything I want to re-enter the joy of Christmas and rediscover the awe and wonder of Christ’s coming. So here is what I am thinking.
The first key to preserving awe and wonder in our lives is to allow for silence, not the silence that comes from an absence of noise, but silentium the silence of attentiveness towards God which we enter into as we make space for and pay attention to our loving, awe inspiring God. It is the place where we find breathing space for our souls and allow our imaginations to flourish.
It was the contemplative practice of lectio divina with its encouragement to a listening kind of silence that opened my soul to awe and wonder once more. I invite you to set aside time each week over the next few months for this practice which encourages us to sit quietly in the presence of God, deliberately shutting out the distractions of inner and outer noise, center ourselves on God, read scripture and listen contemplatively for what God’s spirit might say to us through our listening.
Get out into nature.
Nothing stirs our imaginations or inspires us with awe like nature. Find out about outdoor celebrations of the season that can inspire you. I love to gather autumn leaves and decorate them with words of faith and inspiration for the Thanksgiving table. Or you might like to plan a candlelight walk in your local park or forest during Advent, create an Advent spiral in your backyard or sit on the beach and watch the sunset while you tell the story of Christ’s birth and imagine the wonder of the heavenly angels bursting into the earthly realm singing joy to the world.
Take notice of the small beautiful things around you.
At Christmas we are often overwhelmed by the mass of goods we are encouraged to buy and consume and feel condemned by the encouragement to cut back and simplify. Encourage your family and congregations to reflect on the memories and memorabilia of Christmas past, those small and seemingly insignificant objects that make Christmas special. Plan a make something party to bring together family and friends in a fun filled way. Cards, family photos and ornaments can form foci for attentive reflection and awe inspiring moments.
Seek out what gives you goose bumps.
Awe can be triggered by an unexpected smile, a helping hand on the bus, a mural on a wall. Think about what gives you goose bumps and talk to your congregations and families about what takes their breath away during Thanksgiving and Christmas and look for those triggers around you. Discuss ways that these experiences could be nurtured and highlighted.
See the world differently.
For those who live in the Northern hemisphere Christmas conjures up images of snowy landscapes, Christmas carols by the fire and nativity scenes at church. For me growing up in Australia it is about BBQs on the beach, long family vacations and hot summer days. We all need different perspectives in order to keep the story of Christmas alive and awe inspiring. Encourage your family and congregations to read about Christmas traditions in other countries, or to walk with a child through the Christmas tree lot and marvel at their perceptions and curiosity. Or indulge in some Christmas baking and close your eyes and rejoice in the beauty of touch and smell. Then take it to the local senior care facility or homeless shelter.
Slow down and take notice.
Tom and I attend a performance of the Messiah each year just before Christmas. Listening to this wonderful music together is a wonderful way to drink in the wonder of Christmas once more. Or you might like to take a day off from the season’s festivities and go away for a silent retreat..
What inspires you with awe when you think about the birth of Christ? How do you feel you could encourage yourself, your family and your congregation to discover this awe once more?