Tag Archives: christmas

In the Bleak Midwinter

My dad loved Christmas. He even raised poinsettias. I believe they were the only plants he ever raised. Whatever time he could squeeze during the season, he drove us around to wonder at vistas of lights, and to buy a thick and symmetrical tree. The presents he gave us were always thoughtful. Then he died, late one Christmas night long ago.

Perhaps his dying on Christmas is the reason my emotions reach deepest during each December, and why I have become something of an expert at minimizing the stress the season commonly delivers.

In case some advice might help writers and other driven and sensitive folks, I’ll note a few of the attitudes I find most helpful.

Most importantly, we ought to give up any idea of accomplishing much of anything during this month. Sure we can continue working, but without expectations. Because not only will shopping and entertaining or being entertained add to our normal workload, but old friends may drop in, home for the holidays or prompted by high or low spirits. If we let go of expectations and give the season over to appreciation of the best of what it can offer, by year’s end we might feel rejuvenated rather than wrung out.

Those of us who are physically capable ought to walk a lot, especially if we live in blizzard-free regions. Not only can walking relax us and burn calories, allowing us to feast with more abandon and to consume more seasonal goodies, it can also free us from traffic jams. Ever since I got stuck for an hour trying to leave a parking lot, I conclude my gift shopping with a morning’s walk to and from a mall about a mile away. The gifts I buy that day are small and light.

I begin shopping early by getting my groceries at Target. Not so much variety but who needs 500 brands of tomato sauce. And while there, I take a few minutes, wander away from the grocery section and browse an aisle or two for gifts.

Though I’m skeptical about what we call progress, shopping online is a treat. Let the UPS guy do the driving and parking. And if we care to do a bit for charity in the process, we can start from a link offered by our favorite non-profit, such as Perelandra College.

And Christmas songs can shift our perspective from any kind of woes toward more universal themes, if we go for the old hymn-like sort. Even if we’re not inclined toward the spiritual in general or toward Christianity in particular, the best of them are mellow and uplifting. My current favorites are The Roches version of “Unto Us A Child is Born” and Kelly Clarkson’s “Oh Holy Night”. Both available on Itunes.

And I’ll take the liberty of recommending my favorite Christmas poems, T.S. Elliot’s “Journey of the Magi” and “In the Bleak Midwinter” by Christina Rossetti, which has also been set to music. James Taylor did a lovely version, available on Amazon Mp3 and iTunes

If I can get an evening alone during the week before Christmas, I’ll light a fire and spend a couple hours in the living room, avoiding my computer and phone while I listen to whole of Handel’s “Messiah”.

And, since I’m both driven and forgetful, each day I remind myself not to expect to accomplish anything except to enjoy the season and embrace some gentle thoughts and good will.

Those employed (or self-employed) by a Scrooge should tell him or her to lighten up for a few weeks. If you get fired, move on.

And if you’re called to create a blog post, don’t kill a bunch of time revising. You might even want to re-post one from last years, as I have here.

May God bless us, one and all,

Ken

In the Bleak Midwinter

My dad loved Christmas. He even raised poinsettias. I believe they were the only plants he ever raised. Whatever time he could squeeze from life, he would take us around to wonder at vistas of lights, and to buy a thick and symmetrical tree. The presents he gave us were always thoughtful. Then he died, late one Christmas night long ago.

Perhaps his dying on Christmas is the reason my emotions reach deepest during each December, and why I have become something of an expert at minimizing the stress the season commonly delivers.

In case some advice might help writers and other driven and sensitive folks, I’ll note a few of the attitudes I find most helpful.

Most importantly, we ought to give up any idea of accomplishing much of anything during this month. Sure we can continue working, but without expectations. Because not only will shopping and entertaining or being entertained add to our normal workload, but old friends may drop in, home for the holidays or prompted by high or low spirits. If we let go of expectations and give the season over to appreciation of the best of what it can offer, by year’s end we might feel rejuvenated rather than wrung out.

Those of us who are physically capable ought to walk a lot, especially if we live in blizzard-free regions. Not only can walking relax us and burn calories, allowing us to feast with more abandon and to consume more seasonal goodies, it can also free us from traffic jams. Ever since I got stuck for an hour trying to leave a parking lot, I conclude my gift shopping with a morning’s walk to and from a mall about a mile away. The gifts I buy that day are small and light.

I begin shopping early by getting my groceries at Target. Not so much variety but who needs 500 brands of tomato sauce. And while there, I take a few minutes, wander away from the grocery section and browse an aisle or two for gifts.

Though I’m skeptical about what we call progress, shopping online is a treat. Let the UPS guy do the driving and parking. And if we care to do a bit for charity in the process, we can start from a site like Escrip, one portal to which you can find at Perelandra College (where I happen to teach).

And Christmas songs can shift our perspective from any kind of woes toward more universal themes, if we go for the old hymn-like sort. Even if we’re not inclined toward the spiritual in general or toward Christianity in particular, the best of them are mellow and uplifting. My current favorites are The Roches version of “Unto Us A Child is Born” and Kelly Clarkson’s “Oh Holy Night”. Both available on Itunes.

And I’ll take the liberty of recommending my favorite Christmas poems, T.S. Elliot’s Journey of the Magi and In the Bleak Midwinter by Christina Rossetti, which has also been set to music. James Taylor did a lovely version.

If I can get an evening alone during the week before Christmas, I’ll light a fire and spend a couple hours in the living room, avoiding my computer and phone while I listen to whole of Handel’s “Messiah”.

And, since I’m both driven and forgetful, each day I remind myself not to expect to accomplish anything except to enjoy the season and embrace some gentle thoughts and good will.

Those employed (or self-employed) by a Scrooge should tell him or her to lighten up for a few weeks. If you get fired, move on.

And if you’re called to create a blog post, don’t kill a bunch of time revising.

Bless you, one and all,  Ken

A Christmas Carol

When I mention Soren Kierkegaard to people well-educated in the humanities, psychology, or Christian studies, I usually get a response of admiration along with a comment that he is hard to grasp.

Though I let these responses pass without much comment, they are beginning to concern me. As a parent or softball coach, when a kid says something like “But that’s hard,” I try to help her understand that because something is hard doesn’t mean we can’t do it or shouldn’t bother to try. Master Jeong, a Tae Kwon Do ninth-degree black belt, used to give us this admonition: “Practice the move a hundred times. If you can’t do it right, practice a thousand times. If you still can’t do it, practice ten thousand times.” If something is worth doing, hard is no excuse.

A deep understanding of Christ and his message is certainly worth pursuing, and it’s not something of which we humans are incapable.

I love Christmas carols. I was listening to them and wrapping presents, and when Emmylou Harris sang “How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given,” I stopped and marveled over the recognition that God would give us such credit for both intelligence and potential for insight as to send a messenger with no hoopla, who would speak in parables and other ways that challenge all our abilities to understand. Such a vote of confidence ought to make us feel honored and driven to prove his confidence justified.

We humans don’t give ourselves enough credit.

Kierkegaard teaches about confidence in others as an expression of love. One way, perhaps the best way, we can learn to love better is to give credit to others for possessing love. Even though we don’t see evidence of it, if we believe God is love and we are made in God’s image and therefore endowed with love, then we can presume it resides in all people and determine to act toward them accordingly.

If we treat others with loving confidence even while we recognize that they, like Charlie Brown’s Lucy, might snatch the football away and leave us to go flying, then we are expressing purity of heart, pleasing God.

The failure to give ourselves credit for our God-given abilities is dangerous.  In Dostoyevski’s masterpiece, The Brothers Karamazov, in a section called ” The Grand Inquisitor“, Ivan, one of the brothers, tells Alyosha, his younger brother, a story set in Spain during the Inquisition.

Christ returns to earth and performs healings. Soldiers of the Inquisition arrest and deliver him to the Grand Inquisitor, who sits Christ down and explains the church’s position. He asserts that when the devil tempted Christ in the desert (see Matthew 4), Christ responded incorrectly on account of his belief that people as a whole are capable of choosing and living with freedom. The vast majority, the Inquisitor argues, would rather give up freedom up in exchange for food, security, and a simple dogma upon which to base all decisions.

The Inquisitor believes his judgments are in accord with human nature and so overrule the benefits of the freedom Christ offered us, since only a small minority of humankind would choose freedom.

Brother Alyosha won’t deny the Inquisitor’s assessment of human nature. Neither will I. But I will argue against joining the Inquisitor in his refusal to urge people toward freedom. And I’ll contend that we should do our utmost to challenge people to grow in depth of free, un-coerced, un-simplified understanding.

No matter how hard, how mysterious or confounding an issue may be, we should be willing to tackle it if for no other reason than in gratitude for God’s belief in us.

The importance of accepting such a challenge is multiplied in the case of preachers, artists, parents, coaches, or anyone else in a position to influence. If I could convince the writers of the Perelandra College community to assume one attitude, I would advise them to never consider anything too difficult, for themselves or for their audience. Sure, they may need to work harder to communicate. So be it.

To believe others are capable of more than we can observe in them is a primary quality of love.