A Different Kind of Christmas
Christmas is only eight days away but will certainly be different this year. The pandemic is altering the way we usually experience the holidays with our friends and families. In a normal year at this time, churches would be full, parties would be rocking, families and friends would be together. This year, many will not see their loved ones except from a distance or on a digital screen.
Yes, this is sad, disappointing, and hard for many of us to accept because Christmas is a time to be together and not apart. But at the same time, we have been given a unique opportunity to celebrate Christmas in a different kind of way that might prove to be much more meaningful and more spiritual. Rather than rushing around, party hopping, fighting for parking spaces, and attending large events, we can slow down and experience the peace of this season.
In “The Book of Joy,” the Dalai Lama raises an important question: “Could it be that all of the getting and grasping that we see as our major ambition in life might be misguided?” He and Archbishop Desmond Tutu argue that human beings have a universal need for love, acceptance, and connection.
Fear and anxiety present a challenge. Theologian Paul Tillich once said that all of our anxieties and fears in life can be placed into three categories: fear of death, fear of emptiness or meaninglessness, and fear of guilt or condemnation.
Leadership experts have written countless books over the years on how to lead and live in anxious times. Edwin Friedman once talked about “self-differentiation.” Peter Steinke talks about being a calm, non-anxious presence in the midst of uncertainty. Ronald Heifeitz advocates for “holding steady” and learning to take the heat, whatever it may be.
Before we can do any of this, we must first find our own sense of inner peace and joy that cannot depend on other people or external circumstances like a global pandemic. Inner peace is a conscious choice that we make. If we wait for the external conditions of our lives to become perfect, we will never find it. Joy comes when we live in the present from day-to-day.
Otto Scharmer identifies three negative voices to overcome in our minds. The first is the voice of judgment which is intellectual, sealing off the mind to protect the status quo. The second voice is cynicism, which is born out of mistrust, telling us that everybody is out to get us, hurt us, and stab us in the back. The third is the voice of fear that keeps us afraid of losing what we have earned and accomplished.
These voices must be overcome this Christmas. The Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu say “The problem is not the existence of stressors, which cannot be avoided; stress is simply the brain’s way of signaling that something is important. The problem – or perhaps the opportunity – is how we respond to the stress.” That’s where we struggle.
Buddha argued, “Peace comes from within, do not seek it without.” But Meister Eckhart put it best: “Spirituality is not to be learned by flight from the world, or by running away from things, or by turning solitary and going apart from the world. Rather, we must learn an inner solitude wherever or with whomever we may be. We must learn to penetrate the noise and find God there.” That has always been the spiritual challenge but is especially true this unique Christmas season.
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