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'We are not alone' an important holiday message for 2023

'We are not alone' an important holiday message for 2023
Follow the light. Welcome the stranger. Embrace the imperfect.

Whether celebrating Hanukkah, Yule, Christmas and/or Kwanzaa – or none – universal messages inspire us.

During December, many people observe diverse holidays with unique significance. The universal messages of following the light, celebrating others, welcoming the stranger and embracing the imperfect are messages, applicable to everyone, that are a part of each holiday celebration:
  • Hanukkah, a Jewish religious observance that commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple of Jerusalem, is a celebration of light over darkness and is commemorated with the lighting of candles and prayers on each day of the festival, from Dec. 7-15.
  • Yule, a winter solstice festival that originated with the ancient Norse thousands of years ago, celebrates when sunlight begins to increase, so it also marks light over darkness. The celebrating includes feasting with others and is Dec. 21-Jan. 1.
  • Christmas, a Christian holiday, celebrates the birth of Jesus on Dec. 25. Jesus sometimes is called the light of the world and the holiday includes giving gifts to others and church services that include candle lighting.
  • Kwanzaa, a holiday affirming African family and social values, happens Dec. 26-Jan. 1. The seven principles of Kwanzaa include unity, self-determination, collective responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith. A candle is lit each day and families join in a feast on Dec. 31.
How do those holidays apply to our daily lives in 2023 when, on some days, it appears that peace on Earth is unattainable?

Three members of the Carle Health Spiritual Care team each shared one message of the holidays that can inspire people, whether or not they celebrate any of the holidays. The Carle Health Spiritual Care team is dedicated to support the spiritual needs of patients, regardless of their faith tradition.

What follows are their thoughts. While their responses reflect their Christian faith, their messages are universal.

‘We are not alone’ by Mollie Ward, M.Div, BCC, director, Spiritual Care, Carle BroMenn Medical Center, Carle Eureka Hospital:

The one message of Christmas that I would like to highlight is the idea that, no matter how dark the night, we are not alone.

Many years ago, when I lived in New York City, where I can attest from experience that the lights do not go out, I was friends with a woman who was going through a messy divorce. One weekend, she decided to spend some time at a church-run retreat center in Connecticut. The night she arrived, as exhausted as she was, she could not sleep and struck on the idea of spending some time in the chapel. All she wanted was to sit quietly in the dark and shut out all the noise and pain of her dying relationship. Despite her fervent intentions, she was not to be left to wallow in the dark. You see, the retreat center staff, with an eye toward stewardship and security, had cleverly equipped the chapel with motion detectors. Yes, if my friend sat quietly for a few minutes, the lights would go out. But the slightest movement on her part triggered the switch and flooded the sanctuary with light again. My friend later told me with a sense of awe-tinged amusement that she finally became so frustrated that she prayed, “Why can’t you just leave me alone?” Then she realized that, no, she would not be left alone in the dark. Not then. Not now. Not ever.

Christmas is the moment when Christians lay claim to what earlier traditions described as “God With Us” or “A Great Light” – two of the many metaphors for the indescribable. Madeleine L’Engle, the celebrated American Episcopal author of the spiritually based science fiction novel, “A
Wrinkle in Time,” writes “The name of God is so awe-ful, so unpronounceable, that it has never been used by any of his creatures. Indeed, is it said that if, inadvertently, the great and terrible name of God should be spoken, the universe would explode.” Early in the 20th century, a Belgian Roman Catholic priest and scientist named Georges LemaĆ®tre began to articulate what has come to be known as the Big Bang theory, the idea that the universe came into being when “a primordial condition of enormous density and temperature” began suddenly to expand. The idea is that there was literally a great flash of light, a primeval atom exploded, hurling matter in all directions and creating a fireball of such proportions that, about 15 billion years later, we still are registering its afterglow in the form of cosmic radiation as the universe continues to expand.

Christian scripture tells of how, on the night of Jesus’ birth, shepherds, quietly minding their sheep and their business, suddenly were terrified when “the glory of the Lord” shone upon them and compelled them to act, to get moving, to expand beyond their comfort zone. In the darkness of that night, centuries before electricity, the night of the angels led them, not to a high and mighty monarch, but to a tiny, helpless, homeless baby in a stable.

Whatever our cultural or faith traditions, whenever we allow our hearts to be moved with compassion and recognize the sacredness of those most vulnerable – whether they are buried under rubble in countries far away or are sleeping in doorways in our own communities or are patients in Carle Health hospital beds – we lay claim to a great light. Whenever we see them as human beings rather than objects, give them names rather than labels, we literally participate in the exploding of the universe: the cosmic expansion of love that engulfs us in light and makes possible life itself. The cosmic expansion of love that, like the mind-bending light of the first moments of time, defies understanding and invites us simply to revel in wonder at the promise that we will never be left to wander blind and alone in the icy darkness of space.

‘Welcoming the Stranger’ by Todd Baucum, D. Min., BCC, chaplain, Carle Health Methodist Hospital

Lately, I’ve been thinking how important hospitality is to my life, as the long years of the pandemic have isolated so many of us. There is a daunting and urgent need to reclaim the centuries-old virtue and spiritual practice of “welcoming the stranger;” the outsider, if you will. Most of us in the Christian tradition are prone at times to see the holiday as a focus on our own folks, our relatives and friends. At the core of our faith, is the need to welcome the one not included and open our lives, our homes and our tables to a new neighbor, an international student or a lonely sojourner.

A central value to all three of the Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) is the practice of hospitality, of seeing the stranger as a person worthy of our welcome and warm invitation, with no agenda but kindness. To draw upon the Gospels, we see the anomaly of Mary, soon to give birth, and Joseph, not finding welcome in Bethlehem, when that culture would have, and should have, opened their doors as they searched for a refuge during their travels.

The lesson is rather obvious as we ponder how to apply it to our lives. Look for someone to share your table with or welcome others to a hot drink during a cold night. Be open, curious and learn something about someone’s story or their favorite traditions. The blessing flows both ways.

‘Not the Ideal Christmas, but Better’ by Darla Wilson, M.Div., chaplain, Carle Foundation Hospital

Especially during this time of year, I wish there were more hours to my day. I wish my house was beautiful like a Better Homes and Gardens’ picture. I wish I were more like Martha Stewart with baked gifts for friends and neighbors. I wish our family could relax and spend the day together instead of disappearing for another Super Smash Bros. tournament.

I’m reminded that the first Christmas wasn’t the perfect picture we see on cards and in movies. We find in the Bible story a very pregnant Mary. She traveled with Joseph from Nazareth to Bethlehem, a journey that took approximately four days, much of it trudging uphill. Then, because of the census, there isn’t a single bed and breakfast available once they arrive and they are forced to sleep in a barn. As if it couldn’t get worse, Mary’s labor starts! Having delivered three babies, I think I would be crying and screaming in the corner of the barn at this point. I can see a terrified Joseph, and maybe a midwife, trying to help in the chaos. By this point, Mary probably felt certain that God had forgotten all about her.

But Mary was not forgotten. This insane night was orchestrated by God.

I tend to think that everything has to be just so for Christmas to be special. It always falls short. But even when we are not aware, God is at work behind the scenes. He loves and desires to be with each of us. No matter where we are from or whether our family resembles “Family Feud” more than a Norman Rockwell scene, God is at work.

This holiday season, I am praying for us:
  • To have God’s peace and joy throughout the season.
  • To find ways to bless others.
  • To be more aware of His presence behind the scenes in our messy, less-than-ideal holiday season.
The Carle Health Spiritual Care team is dedicated to support the spiritual needs of patients, regardless of their faith tradition. For more information, click here or here.

Categories: Community

Tags: Christmas, community, diversity, Hanukkah, healthcare, holidays, Kwanzaa, Yule