Christmas Carol Classics: It Came Upon A Midnight Clear

“It came upon a midnight clear
That glorious song of old
From angels bending near the earth
To touch their harps of gold

Still through the cloven skies they come
With peaceful wings unfurled
And still the heavenly music floats
O’er all the weary world

Peace on the earth
Good will to men
From heaven’s all gracious King

The world in solumn stillness lay
To hear the angels sing
Hear the angels sing

Peace on the earth
Good will to men
From heaven’s all gracious King

The world in solemn stillness lay
To hear the angels sing

Hear the angels sing
Hear the angels sing
Hear the angels sing

On a midnight clear.”

Today’s carol is “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” and you can listen to it here.  This song was a poem and carol written by  Edmund Sears, pastor of the Unitarian Church in Wayland, Massachusetts in 1849.  Sears wrote this piece when he was going through a time of struggle and darkness in his life (it goes to show you that even pastors struggle at times).

While it was Christmas time when Sears was going through his challenges, he didn’t write the song about the First Christmas, but rather about the Christmas he was going through then and the then-contemporary issues of war and peace.

However the call for peace is something that is always needed in our world.  If you’re fortunate enough to be experiencing peace in your life at this time I pray that you’ll find an opportunity to share that peace with someone who is not peaceful this holiday season.  I believe the holiday season should be a time of celebration, but there’s also opportunity for quiet reflection on your life and where God is leading you, like Sears took during the year he wrote this song.   So among the celebrating I encourage you to take some time for reflection as well and think about that night so clear so many years ago when Jesus was born.

A Little Quiet Health

When it comes to health we spend a lot of time talking about what to do, or the actions to take to become healthier.  In 2016 that’s a really important thing to do because of all our technology, desk jobs, TV habits and other sedentary pleasures.  Don’t get me wrong, I love those activities (I love reading), do them myself and spend a lot of my day sitting or being less mobile (it’s not great to be huffing and puffing on the phone with a client).  So it’s important that during the hours we are mobile and “doing” health activities that we really do make the most of it.

That said, just doing, blindly or not, isn’t the goal with health.  Health isn’t just about “doing” the right thing (though sometimes actions are required), it’s about a state of being, about how you feel and about how you see and interact with the world.  If you have your day scheduled from one health activity to the next you may be missing out on the opportunity to find peace and mental health.  That’s only found when you take breaks and have fun.

I know it may not seem fun to do things like meditating, napping and sitting quietly, but those times of peace and reflection help you understand your goals and if they’re really what you want or if you need to make an adjustment, and work through the challenges and situations you are experiencing in your life (rather than just reacting to them), as well as take a break from the action of the world.  Let’s be honest: when was the last time you had a good break?  Do you make time for them on a regular basis?  If not you should, even if it means you have to get a sitter for the kids or trade off with another family or your partner.  Some people choose to get up early or stay up late because that’s the best time they know to find quiet.

The other thing I mentioned was fun.  Having health means you have more opportunities for fun, and health isn’t just about ‘chores’ that have to be done.  You can make them fun family activities, like getting dinner ready together, taking hikes in the national parks near you or visiting farmer’s markets to check out new foods to try.  Health is also a great couple’s activity, like long walks, cooking classes and quiet time together.

But before you run off and get active this weekend, take some time to consider how you can work a little rest, reflection and relaxation into your life.  You’ll find it easier to get through the challenges as they happen and feel better about all the things you have to do to be healthy or become healthier.

“Ceaseless activity, constant mental and emotional commotion, is not just the avoidance of our unwanted sense of emptiness, but (it is) also complicit in its continuing cause.” Guy Finley

Following the Flow of Life

I’ve been taking a lot of time to consider life and the future for the past few weeks.  I’ve been taking some downtime and trying to regain perspective on what life means to me and what my place is in it.  I’ve been reminded that everyone gets tired at points throughout their life.  Sometimes we get tired because we’ve been trying to fight the current and go against the grain.  While sometimes it’s the thing to do to get through to the bigger victory, other times fighting and resisting the natural flow of things really hurts you and keeps you from moving forward.

I’ve always been a path-less-traveled type of person, but the past few weeks have got me thinking about whether I’m on the right path or if I’ve been resisting the path.  Because even when we’re talking about “the path less traveled”, there’s still a path of some kind to follow.  One of the conclusions I came to is that when you’re busy fighting against the flow (or just trying to stay afloat) you can miss the path or get distracted and forget that you’re on a path.  Sometimes life does throw big blocks into your life like big health crisis or moving from one side of the country to another.  One challenge we have is staying on point as we navigate over/through/around those blocks.  Most of us get through OK, but not without a few scratches.

If you’re feeling tired this week I encourage you to take a look around and make sure that you’re not uselessly fighting against the current.  Make sure that you’re aware of your surroundings, the pressures in your life and have the support to work through what’s in your life.  If you are being blocked or fighting the current, learn the lesson you’re there to learn and get back on track as soon as possible.  You never know how much life you have left, so make sure to care for the life you have.

“It is always what I have already said: always the wish that you may find patience enough in yourself to endure, and simplicity enough to believe; that you may acquire more and more confidence in that which is difficult, and in your solitude among others. And for the rest, let life happen to you. Believe me: life is right, in any case.”  Rainer Maria Rilke

Reality Reflection: The Setting Sun

This week I’ve been thinking about changes and happened to see a beautiful setting sun.  We all have seasons where the sun sets on parts of our lives.  Sometimes it’s the death of a family member or close friend, sometimes it’s a job or career change, sometimes it’s a new place to live and other times it’s smaller like the end of a brand or product we loved.  The transition time isn’t something we do well with or enjoy all the time.  Endings and partings aren’t things we always enjoy either, and they can be difficult and painful, and sometimes confusing especially if you weren’t expecting it.

Some of us get stuck in the change and transition process, others of us can’t let go of the past, and some of us are so busy moving forward that we don’t grieve and let go of the past.  I think in most cases it’s important to take time to remember the past, work through the transition and move forward.  I don’t think we should skip any of these steps, whether our past was bad or good.  Learning from a bad past is helpful, but it’s also important to take time to cement the memories of the good things you have had or experienced.  Yes, life is about moving forward and living to the fullest, but part of that fullness is the past that has brought you to this point.

This weekend, this summer, I encourage you to take time to enjoy the setting sun as well as the rising sun.  With the late summer nights and early summer mornings there are lots of opportunities to see the sun and remember it as part of your life.  I remember lots of trips as a child where we would watch the rising or setting sun while driving and a few thunderstorms too.  Those are treasured memories from my childhood and I am thankful for them.  Choose to find the beauty in the endings in your life this summer, not just the joy in the future or relief of leaving the past.

Quiet Victories

This month we’ve talked about the importance of making time to be quiet and the value in doing so. As we finish out this month I wanted to share one last thought on being quiet. 1 Thessalonians 4:11 says:

“Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands…”

The Bible makes lots of recommendations in it on how to live a life that is reflective of being a Christian. While it may be hard to understand and apply everything in the Bible to today’s life and our culture which seems very different from that of Bible times, this verse is one that has stood the test of time. It encourages us to do 3 important things: 1-live a quiet life, 2-mind our own business, and 3-work. So what do these 3 things teach us?

First, while Jesus did many showy things during His time on earth, and there is a place and time for making a (grand) stand, the majority of our lives should be lived simply and quietly, and in a way that doesn’t negatively impact those around us. Second, gossip has no place in our lives. Yes, we can learn from each other and the lessons others have experienced to avoid making the same mistakes and failures, but there’s no reason to talk about why other people are divorcing, what’s ‘wrong’ with them or their kids, or pass judgment on things that you have no knowledge of. Third, hard work is good for you! Maybe you don’t work a physical labor job but the point is that you should be doing work to improve yourself, your life and the world you live in.

If you look at the lives of Mother Teresa and Nelson Mandela their goal was not to be on the main stage in front of the world. They were interested in doing what they could do to help the world even if it didn’t seem like they were doing much. If that meant quiet sacrifice so be it. If that meant hard work so be it. If that meant a national stage with world-press of the atrocities they’re fighting, so be it.

So this week I encourage you to what God has called you to do, even if it’s just to make a difference in small, quiet ways.

Seeking this Holiday Season

This month we’ve been talking about taking time to be quiet.  It’s not easy, especially on a day like today, known as “Black Friday” with the hundreds of emails and ads you’ve seen promoting great deals from just about every company vying for your attention and money.  It’s also the beginning of the holiday season, a time of parties, celebrations, opening of gifts, laughter and some tears too.  It’s not really a time of the year that we intentionally set aside for quiet reflection.  But, the holiday season is about the search that closely relates to the search we do during our quiet times: it’s a season of seeking.

Throughout the season we’re looking for the best gifts, for brightly colored lights and decorations, for the best outfit to impress someone, for the mistletoe, for the snow, for Santa and for that feeling of peace and joy we’re told is part of the season.  Part of the reason we are looking is because we’re not sure what exactly we want (or not willing to admit what we do want). Part of the reason is because we’re unable or unwilling to accept how things are or what could be in our lives.  Part of the reason is we’re trying too hard to make things happen.  Part of the reason is we’re not willing to do what it takes to find what we’re seeking.  And there are dozens of other reasons that explain why you might feel unfulfilled or as thought you have to keep looking because you’re not finding what you’re looking for.

Part of the answer is in one of the reasons I listed: we’re not willing to do what it takes to find what we’re seeking.  If you really want peace, maybe the answer is as simple as stopping the seeking long enough to sit down and meditate or not think at all.  Maybe the answer is to ask for help and talk with a professional who can answer the questions you have and have been too afraid to ask.  But what I’ve learned over the years is that there are many things that can’t be helped by external things.  We may think what we really want is more money, when what we really want is more freedom for example.  But freedom isn’t something money buys necessarily, it’s more of a state of mind/life you have to create.  So this holiday season I encourage you to stop and slow down a little and see if what you’ve been looking for all along isn’t already inside you or part of your life.

“There is no need to go to India or anywhere else to find peace.  You will find that deep place of silence right in your room, your garden or even your bathtub.”  Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

The Practice of Quiet

Have you ever taken a quiet walk in the woods either alone or with your partner? Maybe after or during a quiet snow fall or while the autumn leaves are quietly falling around you? There’s something almost unsettling about the quiet that surrounds you, with only the forest noises able to be heard besides your breaths and footsteps. Because it’s so very different from the noises we live with normally, the quiet noise of the woods sounds so foreign and unsettling. But when you get back to civilization do you notice how you miss that quiet, or how annoying the noise that used to be almost invisible is? That’s because despite the world we live in during most of our lives, we still need those quiet moments that get us back in touch with our dreams, desires, true selves, and inner peace.

The practice of traditional meditation is very popular for this reason. We’ve discovered that on a regular basis we need to stop so that we can refocus and let go of the distractions that have taken us in directions that won’t lead us to our goals or will only ultimately hurt us. We’re not meant to be on the go 24/7, our bodies can’t handle it. We need to make time each day to re-center, refocus and relax. The question is do we?

Most of us may try for a few minutes, but like our exercise “practices” and our relationship-building activities, our intentions are usually much better than the reality. But just like exercise, strong and stable relationships, and good eating habits all require work, part of the success with activity is that we can only go so long before we have to stop and take a break. The moments of peace and quiet can be just as valuable and important as those of connection and action, maybe more important if you’re stuck and frustrated with the actions you’re taking.

This week I encourage you to get out there and experience some of the stillness of nature. Remove yourself from the hustle and bustle of this world and reconnect with nature, even if only for a hour, and then make plans for quiet time on a regular basis each day, whether it’s in the bath or shower each day or a few minutes before bed or in the morning before everyone else gets up.

“True silence is the rest of the mind; it is to the spirit what sleep is to the body, nourishment and refreshment.” William Penn