Get Ready for a Calm Christmas

As we hide away from heat advisories in sweltering August, preparing for Christmas is a fun item on the to-do list. I picked up “Calm Christmas and a Happy New Year: A Little Book of Festive Joy” by Beth Kempton for this purpose.

I already consider myself a mindful Christmas practitioner. Yet Kempton took an approach that I found fascinating. She proposes that Christmas has five storylines:

  1. Faith: The celebration of the birth of Jesus and the Christmas story involving church-based traditions and rituals like Advent candles, the creche and traditional Christmas carols.
  2. Magic: The story of Santa Claus, his reindeer and the elves, plus magical Christmas movies and songs.
  3. Connection: Things that connect us to Christmases past, such as “The Christmas Carol,” Christmas trees and treasured ornaments, Christmas dinners, holiday events and Christmas movie traditions.
  4. Abundance: The joy of getting and giving presents.
  5. Heritage: The Christmas practices of your family of origin and your background.

As a Christian, my Christmas celebrations focus on faith. But I was surprised to realize that my family also finds Connection as very important. For one family member, doing the same things that we have done, as in Heritage, is deeply important.

Talk to your family to see what about your Christmas celebration is most important to them. You can create an intentional approach to the season that meets everyone’s needs and desires.

“Calm Christmas” also offers a variety of ideas for a mindful approach to the whole season. I especially liked the author’s idea of spending the time between Christmas Day and New Years Day’s as a “hush” season. This is, she writes: “A time of long walks, hot coffees, languid lounging with leftover chocolates, adding birthday dates to the new diary, telephone catch-ups … and everything on pause.”

Wow! Can I have that in August, too?

Mindfulness Behind the Wheel

Driving during the Christmas season is a chance to start a new habit: practicing Christian mindfulness behind the wheel. It’s an exercise in awareness and kindness.

So often we drive in a semi-conscious state, not truly sure how we got there when we arrive. Have you ever “accidentally” started driving to work, when you were going somewhere else? I know I have.

So first, we respect the reality: We are operating driving a potentially deadly piece of heavy machinery. We don’t want to be distracted. Staying aware helps us stay alive.

Awareness allows us to be intentional about practicing kindness and courtesy to fellow drivers, pedestrians, motorcyclists and bicyclers. Allow people to merge, for heaven’s sake. (And I mean that literally.) Watch out for those walking and cycling around you. And calm yourself when someone is actually obeying the speed limit in front of you. How many times have drivers raced around your car to find themselves sitting next to you at the next light? Plenty, for me.

Author Judith Hurrell, in a recent article in either Breathe or Oh! magazine (I lost the reference), suggested that we remind ourselves that everyone who is driving experiences happiness and suffering. She uses words from the loving-kindness meditation to bless people as they go by.

Blessing our fellow drivers helps us to recall that Jesus loves all of us, even the motorcyclist roaring by you without a helmet.

Bringing words of peace and kindness into the car with you also helps, whether it be a helpful podcast or beautiful music. In my former job, my commute could range from 30 minutes to 90 minutes depending on traffic. I truly enjoyed every moment because I was listening to calming (or funny) audio the whole time. I always arrived at work in a better mood than when I left the house.

The mindlessness of driving can be converted into a flow experience. When you bring intense focus to a task that involves skill and the ability to respond quickly, you can become deeply immersed in your driving. You can enjoy the shades of blue in the sky and the colors of the trees. This time of year, you can enjoy the lights and holiday displays, giving thanks to God for the joy that they create.

It’s a great time to communicate with God, who made all these things. Praising the Lord as you head to an appointment is a good way to be open and attentive during the day.

Starting now to be a holy driver can create a habit that brings joy all year.

Feel God’s Peace

The Holy Spirit lives in every Christian, so it is possible to feel God’s peace, joy and love every day. But it doesn’t just happen.

The easiest way to begin is to spend time in quiet. Silence often leads to an expanded sense of God’s presence. Just sit quietly and pray, “Holy Spirit, fill me with your peace.” Let it happen.

As you feel the peace fill your mind, give thanks. An experience like this seems to lead naturally to gratitude. We can reinforce this gratitude with a simple “thank you” walk or a worship song when the world invades and disturbs our peace.

Once we walk in the present moment in God’s presence, feeling his peace, we can move step-by-step through the day and display love to everyone we meet. That goal would be much too much if we had to do it on our own.

Allowing God to flow through us … to abide in us … to be the vine support our branches … that is how we feel God’s peace and do the most good.

woman listening

Give the Gift of Presence

Christian mindfulness allows us to give others a precious gift: our full, concentrated attention coming from a place of God’s grace.

As the year winds down and the pandemic continues, let’s show our loved ones, colleagues and acquaintances that we care about them. The way of Christian mindfulness calls for us to be fully in the present moment in the presence of God. We bring that approach to others by listening with full and concentrated attention. We have no agenda of things to fix about them. We judge not, lest we be judged.

Meeting people as they are … where they are … is a precious gift. We open up to become truly engaged in their words. We ask open-ended questions that begin with “what” or “how,” rather than “why.” We say, “Tell me more.”

At the same time, we shield ourselves from becoming enmeshed in other people’s problems. That requires detachment along with the compassion. In the past, we may have heard things that were fodder for gossip and judgment. In the presence of Christ, these same things become concerns to lift in prayer. Privately.

The only way this can happen is through God’s grace. Being willing to be a conduit opens ourselves to an outpouring of grace in our own lives.

Help Today’s Holy Innocents

A fear-crazed king orders the execution of all baby and toddler boys in a city. Today is the day that Christians traditionally remember these Holy Innocents. We also remember that Joseph, Mary and Jesus … warned to run … became refugees. So many little ones … some many refugees who need help are all around us.

Christian mindfulness calls for us to be present to this suffering. As we observe, we ask the Lord what he would like us to do. COVID-19 has only made the suffering worse. While it feels overwhelming, even a small offering can bring a bit of light into a dark place.

To honor the children slaughtered in Bethlehem and to help those struggling today, we made a contribution to International Rescue Committee, founded by Albert Einstein in the 1930s.

The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises in more than 40 countries and over 20 U.S. cities. It provides clean water, shelter, health care, education and empowerment support to refugees and displaced people. The board of advisors includes people I trust, not the least of whom is Jeffrey Garten, retired dean of the Yale Business School and Ina’s husband. A generous donor is tripling all contributions given today. You can learn more here.

Dozens of other ways exist to help children in honor of the Holy Innocents today. Giving a family the gift of livestock through World Vision. Sponsoring a child through Compassion International. Contributing to your own church’s relief fund.

Today we recognize the violence against children isn’t new. And that the pandemic will only make the suffering of the innocent worse. Let’s be a force for good.

wrapped gift

The Last Two Gifts

The feast of Stephen, known as Boxing Day in the United Kingdom, is about sacrifice. On this day. let’s give two more gifts.

First, pray to discern which not-for-profit organization has most touched your heart during the Advent season. My social media channels frequently feature a video asking for money to help people in refugee camps. The little girl shown looks a lot like my granddaughter. It’s so painful to watch that I click it off as soon as the internet allows. I will send them some money today.

Second, let’s make a sacrifice of thanksgiving. The Bible tells us to give thanks in all circumstances. I’m guessing that includes pandemic and political tumult.

Practicing Christian mindfulness opens us to the possibility of experiencing the presence of Jesus in the present moment at all times. Whether we felt Him or not, He is there. In all circumstances. So let us offer up thanks and gratitude. We will eventually see what this difficult year has taught us … how it has allowed us to grow. So have faith that the Lord has been with you and give thanks for your circumstances. It’s a gift to God.

Last year’s idea for the feast of Stephen is here.

Santa with giant bag of presents

Meditate on Santa’s Gospel

The Gospel According to Santa Claus goes beyond commercialization. It impacts the heart and soul of the Christmas celebration. It took its shape as gospel in the 20th century. And it’s going strong today.

What does Santa preach? The late, great nonprofit organization, Alternatives, wrote about it in their compilation “Treasury of Celebrations: Create Celebrations that Reflect Your Values and Don’t Cost the Earth.”

"The good news of Santa Claus is for the affluent.
Santa's mission is mainly to the healthy and successful.
The heralds of Santa Claus proclaim self-satisfaction.
Pleasure is the dominant theme.
There is no room for self-denial and the cross.
To stimulate business: 'Let one who has a coat get another coat.' " 


"Treasury of Celebrations" is out of print.  Grab it if you can find it.  It's a five-star book for my household. Other good resources for Christian mindfulness are here. 

This Advent, consider how the gospel of Santa Claus contrasts with the gospel of Jesus.  The Jesus who  came to Earth to sacrifice himself, at great cost, so we can join him forever in Heaven. The Jesus who  cares about the poor, the homeless, the sick, the imprisoned. Meditate on this. 

Offering Your Gold, Myrrh and Frankincense

Today, as much of the church celebrates Epiphany, it is wonderful day to consider what gifts we want to offer to God in the coming year.

I did a meditation in the book “A Quiet Place Apart: Guided Meditations for Advent, Christmas, New Year and Epiphany” by Jane E. Ayer. Here are Ms. Ayer’s books on Amazon. Most seem out of print and quite expensive.

However, I do find her work just wonderful to do in a group or by yourself. Her meditation for New Year is a very effective way to go before the Lord to consider this year’s goals. Since it’s so hard to find, I’ll summarize it so you can try it yourself.

She places the meditation in the context of Joseph and Mary going to present the baby Jesus at the Temple. You do a Lectio Divina in the words of Luke:2:21-40. As you savor these words, you visualize yourself standing with Joseph, Mary and Jesus as the baby is redeemed and then visited by Simeon and Anna. Then you find yourself before the altar in Jerusalem offering your gifts. This requires a period of quiet prayer, listening to God and your innermost self.

Ms. Ayer asks you to give God the gift of yourself, your authentic self. She asks you to think about how you want to focus your efforts in 2020 in these life areas:

  • Spirituality and prayer
  • Health
  • Family, friends, community and church
  • Education
  • Work or career
  • Recreation and relaxation
  • Stress reduction
  • Relationships: the unhealthy, new ones, past ones
  • Habit, character flaws and attitudes
  • Services

IF you haven’t thought about the coming year and what you would like to change, this is an excellent spiritual exercise.

Mindful Eating on the Feast of Stephen

All the festivities and food are slowing down. The Feast of Stephen, or Boxing Day, is a good time for us to slow down too.

I’ve always wondered what the discussion process was in putting the commemoration of Christianity’s first martyr the day after Christmas. Perhaps it is to show the possible cost of loving Jesus.

Today, try this mindfulness exercise: Eat silently and alone for one of your snacks or even a meal. Enjoy the presence of God with you, and pay attention to the sights, smells and tastes of the food he has blessed for you.