News & Commentary

A Quieter Christmas

Christmas can be a noisy time of year. You find yourself in stores crammed with people, and at home you may be surrounded by family members and friends. Everywhere you go you hear tinny loudspeakers blaring Christmas carols that in another context might be soothing.Quiet is not just the toning down of sounds. It can also be visual order and stillness. At Christmas time you also run into visual noise everywhere you look. The lights, which can be a meaningful central feature of Christmas, tend to be overdone. The colors red and green assault you. Bad, sentimental art pops up at every turn.

All of this noise can make you unsettled, nervous, and even angry. There is no quiet to be found in the world, and you can barely find it in yourself. But with COVID-19 still wreaking havoc, this Christmas is bound to be quieter for many of us.

When you reflect on the deeper meaning of Christmas, you think that some quiet might be in order. According to tradition, the shepherds seem to have been enjoying a quiet night, until the angels appeared in great numbers singing triumphantly. The scene at the manger must have been a quiet moment, too, when the mother wasn’t in pain.

There is good reason to pursue some quiet time during the Christmas season. After all, Christmas is a great mystery about the divine becoming human and an infant embodying a new world order based on community and respectful love.

The season has also spawned excellent stories and poems and music. You might like a quiet moment to read a story or poem and listen to some good music. Maybe you just want to get away from all the bustle and feel some peace, which seems appropriate at this time of year.

Just remember, the world in general isn’t too concerned about being quiet. You have to be imaginative and create the space for quiet around you. You have to shut some doors, put up a note, complain, make some rules or get some distance. To enjoy quiet you have to be strong or clever.

Once you find a quiet spot, you can put yourself in the Christmas scene and let the story get through to your heart. Consider seriously what it means to you. Take some time to smell the tree, gaze at the manger scene, trim some lights or pine branches. Maybe you can arrange a quiet moment with your family in a darkened house. You could even go for a quiet dinner at a quiet restaurant on a quiet evening. Quiet is not the same as silence.

I enjoy times of silence, but often a rule of silence turns out to justify a lot of noise. I visit a yoga center frequently where breakfast is eaten in silence. I can’t relax at that breakfast. My mind is racing, precisely because of the silence. People are whispering and using their own sign language, making the whole experiment a farce. Besides, in the silence you can hear all sorts of noises that ordinarily would be blocked out by life. I’d rather have a quiet breakfast.

The same holds for Christmas. Don’t be heroic about the quiet moment you’re looking for. Understand, too, that quiet doesn’t have to last a long time. A few minutes of quiet goes a long way.

A good way to have some quiet time is to be a quiet person. I know, everyone isn’t built that way. But you can cultivate new habits of seeking quiet places and keeping your mouth disengaged and calming your thoughts. You don’t have to learn a severe form of meditation. As the Zen Master says, you only have to sit. If you can sit and do nothing for a few minutes, you can find the quiet you want in the Christmas season. Not-doing is an effective form of quiet that nobody sees and no one can disturb.

I believe that life in general needs quiet every day. Otherwise you are too far outside yourself. You have little interiority and almost no awareness. Quiet is the pause that gives everything else definition. It is a calming of activity, inner and outer, that allows things to happen. At Christmas, the need for quiet is greater than usual, because a wondrous mystery is being observed.  So by all means do what you can to have some good quiet time during the holidays. It will keep you focused on the deep meaning of Christmas and will give you a taste of the comfort and joy everyone is singing about.

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