Melissa brought up the carol, "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" yesterday. "Everyone knows the first verse, which is pretty serene, but there are a lot more verses to it," she said.
She's right. I know the carol well and I have spent quite a bit of time reflecting on the three verses between the first and last. The carol was written by a minister who had suffered breakdown and wrote what he was witnessing. A weary world, full of sin and strife. Suffering. Forms bending low under life-crushing loads. In spite of that, he encourages the hopeful notion of stopping to listen for the angels:
Still through the cloven skies they come,
With peaceful wings unfurled,
And still their heavenly music floats
O’er all the weary world;
Above its sad and lowly plains,
They bend on hovering wing,
And ever o’er its Babel sounds
The blessèd angels sing.
Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel-strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love-song which they bring;
O hush the noise, ye men of strife,
And hear the angels sing.
And ye, beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow,
Look now! for glad and golden hours
come swiftly on the wing.
O rest beside the weary road,
And hear the angels sing!
While the verses may not be familiar, the sentiment is.
The holiday season can be rough for many, but this year seems to be bringing a lot of emotions to the surface for some of the most stoic among us. I met with someone yesterday who admitted he has been losing sleep over any number of things, but mainly the political climate and some of the potential ramifications of decisions being made at all levels of government.
I couldn't offer him any guarantees or assurances, but I offered him some advice related to trying to hush some of the noise that was getting the best of him:
Limit the noise.
A self-preservation rule I have recently implemented is checking news sites once in the morning over coffee and once in the evening - before dinner and never right before I go to bed. I have turned off all news alerts on my devices. I have missed nothing of importance.
I'm well schooled in media and messaging and I can tell you this: The "fake news" argument is manufactured, but pervasive media influence is very real. Take some time to understand the game being played around you. I'm not exaggerating when I tell you that every second, news outlets are fighting for your time, attention and energy; and headlines, leads, questions and sidebars are written to achieve just that.
Limit your exposure. Be intentional about checking social media. Don't read the comments section. Just don't.
It's also helpful to stay focused on established news sources that aren't as big with the slant. The news sites I tend to stick with are Reuters, PBS, BBC, NPR, The Economist and the Wall Street Journal.
Jennie has this hanging in her kitchen:
T - is it true?
H - is it helpful?
I - is it important?
N - is it necessary?
K - is it kind?
She put it up years ago when her four kids kept lipping off to each other, but I think it's a good set of questions to have in mind before you go commenting, Tweeting, creating a meme or posting on social media. If you had a lot to say about stuff like the First Lady's White House Christmas decorations or Prince Harry choosing an American actress as a bride being the beginning of the end of the English aristocracy, I'm talking to you. Just don't. It's mean, it's not important, and it just adds to the hateful churn.
Change the message.
There's a lot of talk about watching Hallmark Christmas movies this time of year, which is a strategy I highly recommend. I also make it a point to read Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol each December. It's a short read and it centers me on what's important. You don't have to be fully engaged with the world around you 24/7. Give your brain some recess.
Look for the helpers.
Mr. Rogers was right when he advised to look for the helpers when scary stuff was going on in the news. I think that's absolutely true. When political news is getting scary, I tend to look for perspectives from people on both sides of the aisle whom I trust and who view what's going on through a pretty thoughtful and measured lens. They're almost always successful in talking me off the ledge.
I bundled up against the 18-degree temperature this morning and took a walk as the sun was coming up. In our part of the world we have been treated to some absolutely breathtaking sunsets in recent weeks. But sunrise in December is in a class by itself. The sky transforms into layers of blue and white before the sun starts peeking up from the horizon, adding bands or purple and orange. The world takes on a different perspective when we take time to witness something like that.
Look, I'm not telling you that watching a few sunrises is going to completely turn things around for you. But I'm also not willing to concede that the world is going to hell in a handbasket. Not just yet, anyway.
Human strife and chaos have existed since the dawn of time. Far from the tranquil scene frequently painted, Jesus came into the world amid a hotbed of ruthless power struggles, bloodshed and political unrest.
This isn't anything new to humanity, and oddly, I think we can find some comfort in that. In spite of what continues to happen, the sun still rises and sets. Light keeps finding a way to shine through. We move through and we move on.
For my faith tradition, this time of year challenges us with the discipline of wait. Wait can be exciting and it can be excruciating. For the times it's the latter, I try to remember that as I'm waiting for the joy of Christmas, I'm not just waiting for Jesus. I'm waiting with Jesus. When I remember that, it's easier for me to practice empathy, love, kindness, patience and hope - and these are much better uses of my energy.
As you work to hush the noise and manage your wait, I pray that your heart is filled with these virtues.