This Christmas, I Want a Whole Lot More/Less
I was complaining to one of you in the church recently, about my need to downsize the stuff that fills my house. Like so many USAmericans, it is alarmingly easy and seductive to accumulate so many possessions that they begin to sort of possess us. At least, that’s what I notice in myself. So this church member I was grousing to wisely suggested that I read what some wise writers are saying these days about living with less, and finding a “blessed more” in the process.
Of course, Jesus is up there as a great teacher who traveled lightly and possessed little. He encouraged his followers to share what they had, to accept the generosity of others, but mostly to find our great value in serving God and neighbor, and to not seek our ultimate validation thru our stuff. “Consider the lilies and the birds of the air,” Jesus would say as he encouraged those who would follow him to travel lightly as well.
But the book my wise church friend suggested to me is called “The Joy of Less” by Francine Jay. I’m currently plowing thru it, just in time for the acquisitive gift-getting season of Christmas. I commend the book to anyone seeking a little liberation in their lives. For me, it is shining a big light on my addiction to accumulating stuff – books, guy toys, clothes – oh, did I say books! I have books I’ve read once, have thought of reading, or will never read. But I like accumulating them just to have them around. They line my walls. They fill my boxes. Hmm, when does a “collector” become a “hoarder”? I, like many, have surrounded myself with things that hold an emotional connection or memory, but are not really relevant to my life in an ongoing way. And I’m getting the hint that the move toward traveling lightly is spiritual work as much as it is getting my house in order. “Relinquish” is becoming a new word in my vocabulary, and it means to surrender or give away. To just let it go.
The great composer, Clause Debussy, said “Music is the space between the notes”. The writer of “The Joy of Less” says it this this way: “Life is the space between our things. Too much clutter can stifle our creativity, and make our lives discordant. Conversely, the more space we have, the more beautifully and harmoniously we can live.” As I look ahead to the festivities and hundreds of Christmas sales leading up to Christ’s birthday, I feel called to question what I’ve too often bought into, that our culture considers important.
I’ve dusted off my copy of Bill McKibben’s “Hundred Dollar Holiday” (oops, another book in my collection! There’s also a copy in the church library). But in this little volume, McKibben noticed how many people have come to dread the approach of the holidays, a season that should - and can - be the most relaxed, intimate, joyful, and spiritual time of the year. The dread was from the sense of obligation many feel to over-spend or buy-in to the idea that Christmas is only Christmas if it comes from a store. What if we made it a goal this year to see that experiences shared together with loved ones and neighbors are to rank higher for us than store-bought gifts? What if we made a gift, or wrote a heartfelt card, to the people most dear to us? What if we gave away possessions of ours that hold value and beauty, but that we no longer really need? I am committing this year to a tradition our family once shared when our girls were small, what we called “Christmas with the Animals”. It’s a beautiful notion, taken from St. Francis, that Christ was born into the world to bless/redeem all of Creation, and not merely humans. So the week of Christmas, our family will enter the woods to hang onto tree branches strings of popcorn and peanut butter-slathered pine cones and orange slices for the birds and critters. It’s a small thing, but it is a way to honor Christ and Creation and those precious humans in my inner circle. I would like to hear about Christmas traditions in your family where the experience of being together, as family and neighbors, ranks higher than store-bought gifts.
This December, the families of Central Church are being offered Advent Table Tents for our dinner tables, with a different focus for each of the four weeks in Advent. There are some beautiful “homework” actions to do, alone or as families, that are all about connecting with God and neighbor, and not just about buying more stuff for somebody. Here’s one of the assignments that caught my attention: Write and deliver the most radical love letter you can muster to the person you know needs to hear it most. The one requirement is it has to scare you a little, or at least make you nervous. Practice leaning on God’s love – the source of all radical, vulnerable, rule-breaking love – as Joseph did.
For a lot of people, the weeks leading up to Christmas bring high excitement mixed with a full measure of dread. But it can be lighter, more Spirit-seeking for us all. As I keep learning my lessons about relinquishing from what I don’t need, making space for Meaning and Mystery, noticing people more than possessions – I invite you to join me in all the great Christmas traditions we share at Central Church. I invite you, with me, to slow down and stand in the dark, under a winter sky, for no better reason than to ponder the Light-come-in-Christ that redeems the world.
Rethinking my Christmas list,
I would like to hear about Christmas traditions in your family where the experience of being together, as family and neighbors, ranks higher than store-bought gifts:
My favorite Christmas tradition that we’ve started since having kids is that everyone stays overnight at my parents house on Christmas Eve. All 9 of us wear matching pajamas and stay in our pajamas all of Christmas Day. We go on a snowy walk in the meadow at Hickory Hills, work on a Christmas puzzle, and walk around the neighborhood looking at Christmas lights. All of us look forward to this day together all year.
Bonnie Sonnemann says
As usual, Chris, your words make me think and remember. As the years and Christmases have gone by my ideas of celebrating Christmas have changed. However, what hasn’t changed is attending Christmas Eve services with family. As our family has grown with grandchildren and I have gotten older we typically have a leisurely Christmas Day where my son-in-law makes soup for our meal. And then a day or two after Christmas all of our kids and their families and my sister and her husband travel somewhere where we have rented a big house with lots of space and bedrooms and we spend a few days together. The cousins renew their friendships and the adults share time putting a puzzle together, playing a card game or just talking and laughing. One year we went to the Apostle Islands in northwest Lake Superior. This year we are going to Chicago. I save “Christmas money” all during the year to help rent a big house instead of buying gifts for my adult children. I have come to realize that having our whole family together is the biggest gift we can share. I used to think I had to give gifts that I purchased in a store…now the biggest gifts are memories and fun whole family times.