Christmas Reflections

My husband is fond of kidding me about how crammed my dresser drawers always seem to be. In fact, they may be symptomatic. I lead a jam-packed life. Between job, family, meeting, community service, friends, personal pursuits, and self-care, it’s always a balancing act. I often feel that optional, but not unimportant, things on the home front get short-changed. Stress is a constant companion, one with which I’ve worked out a reasonable relationship. Good diet, regular exercise, spiritual practice, attention to aches and pains, no alcohol or tobacco—and stress stays at a manageable level, permitting me (so far) to keep that jam-packed schedule. But at what price?

Recently, an over-65 colleague commented on how rapidly time is going by these days. His comment prompted me to reflect on this common phenomenon, the "speeding up" of time as we grow older. Perhaps our lives become increasingly like my dresser drawers—full of utilitarian, important, or precious activities with which we feel we cannot part—and consequently we are denied the simplicity of fewer demands, fewer obligations, and a more focused perspective on our days. It may well be that there are things in there that we easily enough can do without, if only we take the time to investigate the full contents we’ve assembled.

The holiday season is a good time to reflect on cumber—material and circumstantial—and its cumulative effect upon us. Many of us feel great pressure at this time of the year to do more than is truly comfortable for us, to add more to our load of obligations. If these comments strike a chord for you, I invite you to have a look at Henry Cadbury’s "Christmas—Every Day or Never?" (p.26), an archival reprint in which this venerable Friend reflects on the practice of earlier Friends in relation to the celebration of Christmas. There is good sense to be found there, although I admit I do enjoy some of the festivities earlier Friends surely would have frowned upon. For a more contemporary approach, read the insights of Sean Crane in "Not Another Holiday Letter" (p.18) or "Christmas Light" by Eleanor Wright (p.24), as each shares recent Christmas experiences and the spiritual insights they gained. They lead me to reflect that unpacking overstuffed drawers can leave space for the Spirit to fill with wonder. One does have to make the space.

This year has seen phenomenal destruction wrought by a tsunami, major hurricanes, and earthquakes. The images of total devastation we have seen these past 12 months, both here and abroad, gave us an opportunity to reflect on how fragile and fleeting life can be—and upon what is of true value and cannot be replaced. Our lives do not depend on those things that jam our drawers—nor our appointment books. But surely they do depend on the kindness, charity, generosity, and love we give and receive.

Jesus arrived here in the humblest of circumstances, with just those things that matter the most: a roof over his head to shelter him; the warmth, comfort, and protection of his parents; and the kindness of strangers to succor him and his family. We do him—and that vast majority of humanity who live in humble circumstances everywhere—a disservice when we make our lives unnecessarily complex or encumbered. Might our gift this year to ourselves and others be to open up a space that Spirit can fill? But most certainly not in our dresser drawers!