December in the newspaper business is often filled with stress as we try to bring to an end projects that have been in the works for weeks or months. The same is true for many of you, who have year-end reports, annual budgets and other tasks that load down the final days of the year.
The shopping, the baking, the parties, the traveling. It’s a wonder we have arrived at this morning.
But Christmas morning has indeed arrived, just as it has for more than 2,000 years. It’s a welcome note of peace and goodwill, coming at the end of yet another challenging year for our nation, the world and humanity.
Writing a column that appears on Christmas morning is not the easiest task for someone in a profession that practices respectful skepticism. (If your mother says she loves you, journalists tell each other, check it out.) Religion right now is especially controversial. But Christmas is inherently about religion, as it is about love.
This season, I have been reading the sermons and homilies of the late Forrest Church, an Idahoan who was the son of Frank and Bethine Church. I heard him speak at Boise State University and was lucky enough to chat with him at the time. (And by the way, I miss Bethine, as I know many of you do, too. She left us two years ago this week. Her hope, spirit and love shined into all corners of the world.)
Forrest died of cancer in 2009. He was the senior minister of the Unitarian Church of All Souls in New York City. As a historian he wrote about the history of Christmas and as a pastor he led his church in decades of Christmas Eve services.
He was in New York after the Twin Towers came down in 2001 and read from the Koran — which is not a particularly revolutionary act for a Unitarian.
He celebrated good times, too. But because I am about the same age he was when he died in 2009, his final Christmas Eve prayer, in 2008, resonates with me.
That year, the recession had hit hard. Like the days after 9/11, it was a time of restlessness. Church was telling his parishioners not to look back in regret or to look forward with foreboding.
“Be open. Do nothing. Force nothing. Your worries and fears, your hopes and ambitions, let them be. No more striving, not now. We’ve done enough this year. We have all done enough. Too much even. Too much and too many and too often,” he said.
“Stop for Christmas. Be present. Be open. Be awake. Force nothing. Listen and lighten up. Ease your heartstrings. Catch your breath. Put down your lists. Just be here. Now. Together.”
Imagine yourself in a field, under stars of wonder. Listen and imagine. Do nothing. Just wait. For the hint of a new birth within you. A harbinger of hope, beyond all seeking and striving.
Forrest Church’s 2008 Christmas Eve prayer
A politically minded Idahoan echoes those thoughts this year. Sen. Mike Crapo gave his Republican Party’s Christmas address Thursday:
“As we gather together with our loved ones this Christmas,” said Crapo, “let us not forget to take time to enjoy the little and the big things more: the joy in the eyes of children; the laughs of friends and family; the snow-covered trees; the food on our tables; clean water and heat; and all the many other blessings we have as Americans.”
Merry Christmas. My wish for us all is peace on Earth and, most of all, love.