On approaching a pub last Saturday we were greeted by a billboard next to the door which said: ‘We wish you a Merry Christmas’. Inside, the pub’s interior was well-adorned with Christmas decorations and the usual seasonal menus. Not unusual you might think given that you’re probably reading this in December. But spare a thought that this blog is being written in the second week of November, and it seems a long way off to be wishing anyone a merry Christmas quite yet! As soon as Halloween is done and dusted businesses can’t help themselves from entering an almost febrile state of seasonal anticipation. For a full two months we are bombarded with Christmas advertising from every imaginable angle. I haven’t sung any carols yet and I already feel as though I’m suffering from Christmas fatigue!
For me, the result of this over-commercialisation is that Christmas has tended to lose some of its magic. Rather than being excited by what the season might hold, I feel desensitised by the onslaught of advertising and daunted by how devastatingly tired I know I will feel once all is said and done. It seems, like many things in life, that Christmas has been hijacked by the western mindset which can’t stop thinking about where to get its next fix from. In such a frantic and fast-paced environment no wonder we, as a society, are suffering more occurrences of stress, anxiety, panic and depression and consumerism. The poet W H Davies really hit the nail on the head when he wrote the opening words to his famous poem Leisure: ‘What is this life if full of care we have no time to stand and stare’. All this points to a loss of ability to simply stop and be comfortable in one place for any length of time before then moving on in a more ordered and mindful way.
The word ‘mindful’ stands out for me because I have spent a bit of time reflecting on it and the concept of mindfulness. Mindfulness might be judged by some to be merely the latest fad in a long line of cognitive practices designed to help combat stress, but its popularity alone shows that the demand for such techniques is worrying high. People are crying out for a way of thinking that helps them to navigate our anxiety-inducing world and re-orientate our minds to a more restful place. Thanks to this church, I’ve just enjoyed my second experience of Yoga where the teacher describes what is going on in society as an epidemic of ‘sensory motor amnesia’. In other words, all too often we have forgotten what it is to really be aware of our own bodies and feelings, and I would argue that our headlong dash towards Christmas only serves to heighten this amnesia. Practicing mindfulness is a way we can begin to combat this trend. Fortunately the Christian tradition has a long history of encouraging mindfulness-like practices as a way of deepening both our personal and spiritual awareness.
So how will you try to make your Christmas a little more mindful this year? What of the froth and hype can you drop in order to allow more time for appreciating God’s saving work in Jesus? For me, a retreat into simplicity is definitely on the cards. The chance to concentrate on family and community, the exchange of simple yet heartfelt gifts and cards, the opportunity to revisit the real Christmas story: one that is all about scandal, isolation, discomfort and displacement rather than opulent indulgence.