Tidings of Comfort & Joy
We believe this is a season for tidings of comfort and joy.
Some of us find it ironic to expect to hear tidings of comfort and joy right now. It might be particularly helpful for us to receive some of those tidings this year. What we hear, though, are usually tidings of what new products we need to buy to make our lives complete.
We check our social networks and find person after person asking us to pray for them. Some of us are struggling financially, or struggling with cancer. We hear tidings of natural and political disasters around the world.
Tidings of struggle and suffering seem to shape our everyday experience.
Where are the tidings of comfort and joy we are supposed to be hearing? How can we hear those tidings for a change?
I do not believe we are wrong to expect to hear tidings of comfort and joy. We may, though, misunderstand the comfort and joy we are hoping to hear.
It is not a surprise we do not appreciate what comfort and joy we can expect to receive. We lack awareness of the meaning of comfort and joy in our own lives. Our misunderstanding of comfort and joy in this season grows from our lack of understanding for the season.
We believe this season is about warm feelings, soft lighting, and children singing. Those things have little to do with what this season is really about.
Our experience of this season is shaped by traditions and myths which distort its true meaning. This season is about how spiritual life enters and disrupts the ways we organize our everyday lives.
It is not surprising we cannot hear and do not understand the tidings of comfort and joy all around us.
Where Are Our Tidings of Comfort & Joy?
We believe this season is designed to make us feel better and more secure.
Some of us focus on buying and giving the perfect gifts. Other people feel more secure when we get the gifts we want. Our experience of this season can get all wrapped up in the story of gifts we have received in the past.
There are people who draw security from the traditions and history of the season. They feel more comfort and more joy when they hear their favorite carol or see their favorite film. People want to celebrate in ways they have celebrated for as long as they can remember. Some people believe this season is about the Nutcracker or Elf or White Christmas or Love Actually.
I see this season, and spiritual life, differently.
This season is all about how spiritual life enters into our everyday lives. It is about how deeply sacred truths shape how we behave toward other people.
I do not believe there is much which is soft or fluffy about this season. It is a season about revolution, about how spiritual life throws our own internal order into chaos.
The comfort and joy I find in this season is about no longer needing to be perfect. Spiritual life teaches me, in new ways each day, my life is not about avoiding mistakes.
This season reminds me each year I do not need to worry about getting everything right all the time. Life is about how we respond to what happens to us, not about controlling what happens.
There is great comfort and joy in knowing we are not responsible for meeting anyone’s standard of perfection, even our own.
How do we hear these tidings? What do we need to do to experience comfort and joy?
Hearing Tidings of Comfort & Joy
Comfort and joy lie buried deep within this season under layers of cultural traditions and commercial expectations. We allow them to be nearly drowned out by advertising and other distractions.
A contemplative approach to holidays helps me, layer after layer, uncover hidden comfort and joy.
Our first step toward hearing tidings of comfort and joy is taking time to listen.
Some of us sit and watch the lights on the tree or the dancing light of candles. We may take a walk in the woods or along a beach, or on city streets. It may be spending some quiet time in a place of worship.
We need to spend time each day where it is still enough for us to listen.
It helps me to reflect on what this season, or any other, is really all about. Clearing away layer after layer of accumulated expectations shows me how to excavate deep truths.
It takes time and effort. Eventually we can hear tidings of real comfort and joy.
Sharing Tidings of Comfort & Joy
We are drawn to share the tidings of comfort and joy we find with the people around us.
Some of us rely on words of encouragement to open our hearts and help people who suffer and struggle. Others are drawn to spend their time or their financial wealth. Each of us finds our own ways to share tidings of comfort and joy.
It is not essential for us to have an organized, comprehensive plan before we begin. We do not need an efficient structure or a projected budget.
The tidings of comfort and joy we hear and share are not about solving problems or having all the answers. We do not need to know precisely what will happen as we spread comfort and joy.
This season is about recognizing the disruptive comfort and joy we experience as spiritual life is born in our world.
More than any particular tradition or memory, this season is about celebrating how spiritual life lives and works. As we set aside our insecurity and fear we discover spiritual life all around us and within us.
We find comfort and joy as spiritual life breaks in to disrupt our everyday lives.
How do we share tidings of comfort and joy today?
When will we take time to listen for tidings of comfort and joy this week?
[Image by aharden]
Greg Richardson is a spiritual director in Southern California. He is a recovering assistant district attorney and associate university professor, and is a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is StrategicMonk.com and his email address is StrategicMonk@gmail.com.