Thursday, December 25, 2008

The meaning of Christmas

There's some excellent reporting on religious even Christian themes on days like today. I've spent about 45 minutes reading articles on the web.

The St Louis Post Dispatch has an article "Silence is Holy on Christmas Day" that quotes The Rev. Clare McPherson's book, "Keeping Silence":

Theologians, scholars and pastors say silence is especially important during the holidays when the commotion and racket of the secular can distract from peaceful meditation on the true meaning of Christmas.

Silence "helps us get in touch with our deeper selves and build a stronger relationship with God," said the Rev. Mary Gene Boteler, pastor of Second Presbyterian Church in St. Louis.

"The Christmas tumult and noise that begins after Halloween pulls us away from that silence. It's as if we're afraid of what we'd discover if we were to move into that greater silence."

The sacredness of silence is a part of many religious traditions. It is often said that "Quakers have as many words for silence as Eskimos do for snow." Hindus and Buddhists value silence as a spiritual concept. Kenneth Kraft, professor of Buddhist Studies at Lehigh University, said the appreciation of inner silence is one of the most practical aspects of Buddhism.

"There is an inner chatter going on in our minds, and when we try to stop that inner chatter, we don't even know how to do it," said Kraft. "Meditation enables people to have that surface chatter quiet down, but without a loss of awareness or consciousness. In fact, quieting that chatter allows the deep mind to relate to experience in a very rich way."

Religious and literary figures have spoken and written about the value of silence. God "cannot be found in noise and restlessness," said Mother Theresa. "God is the friend of silence."

Just before Christmas in 2003, Pope John Paul II said silence was a key to the mystery of Christ's birth. Silence, he said, "is able to hear the singing of the Angels and the cry of the Babe, and does not let them drown in noise and confusion."

Shakespeare called silence "the perfectest herald of joy," and Herman Melville said all profound things "are preceded and attended by Silence." Silence, said Melville, "is the only Voice of our God."

The Rev. C.W. McPherson, an Episcopal priest and author of "Keeping Silence," says humans have not evolved far enough to handle the sheer volume of noise that exists in today's culture.

"The loudest noise our great-grandfathers heard was thunder," McPherson said. "Today we're assaulted with noise, and we've made Christmas congruent with that ... which makes Christmas too frenetic and too crazy."

Jubilant celebration at this time of year, with family, music, even gift-giving, is appropriate, even needed, McPherson said, but Christians should "deliberately build silence into their celebrations." He suggested a daily silent reading of the first three chapters of the Gospel of Luke — the story of Christ's birth.

The Charlotte Observer has an article, "Finding the light in dark times" in which the author presents a message from local clergy:

In that simple scene in Bethlehem, God showed how secondary material things are to him: He chose to enter the world not as an earthly king, but as a needy baby, born into a poor family, his first bed an animal trough. An angel announced Jesus' birth not to the rich and powerful, they say, but to lowly sheep herders, whose initial terror gave way to peace and joy.

“If you look at the manger scene, it's a place of great vulnerability – not clean, not a place of security, a borrowed shack,” says the Rev. Chip Edens, rector at Christ Episcopal Church in Charlotte. “But there's something powerful in all that. When we're vulnerable, we're more open. … Our needs become blessings and we're invited to get in touch with Christ and experience healing, strength and hope.”

All this has become real and personal to people as they see jobs vanish, homes go on the auction block, and 401(k)s plummet.

God “is saying to us, ‘These things you thought were going to take care of you? Well, they're not. But I will.'” says the Rev. Tom Stinson-Wesley, pastor of Pineville United Methodist Church. “Don't be afraid – that's God's message to us.”

1 comment:

Elizabeth said...

This is a year when we saw suffrage bested and civil rights elevated and crushed at the same time. Crazymaking. I have been searching for a reason to hope considering what I see as "all the old hateful religious (read illiterate, bigoted) money dudes" fully taking over both parties and revelling in decadent display to rub our collective noses in it. I wish America, had chosen a path that could possibly lead to anything better. But, that choice or any real choice isn't really available to us at all, is it? Not to get depressed again. I just wrote to say, Thanks for reminding us She will always be there for us. It helped. Happy Geol (The God Month).