A Blue Christmas

As Christmas approaches, does the absence of loved ones color the season with shades of blue?

It’s a song that’s part of my early childhood memories. I’m sure I remember it because both of my parents always listened to music and my father tended to sing along. Given my parent’s fondness for music, it’s not surprising that the Elvis Presley version of Blue Christmas is a song I fondly remember them singing.

Written by Billy Hayes and Jay W. Johnson in the 1940’s, the lyrics to this song of unrequited love are simple and touching:

I’ll have a blue Christmas without you
I’ll be so blue just thinking about you
Decorations of red on a green Christmas tree
Won’t be the same dear, if you’re not here with me

And when those blue snowflakes start falling
That’s when those blue memories start calling
You’ll be doin’ all right, with your Christmas of white
But I’ll have a blue, blue, blue, blue Christmas

A blue Christmas has come to refer to those who experience Christmas in the midst of loss and grief. For many people, no other time is as tender as the winter holiday season after a loved one’s passing. The many happy memories shared over holidays past become reminders that the loved one is no longer present. Blue Christmas’s don’t just come the first year after the death of a loved one; for some people, the holiday is simply never the same.

In the blueness of the holiday season, perhaps it’s helpful to remember that the Christmas story is marked by light and darkness, joy and pain, good news and great fear. It was on a cold, dark night when the star appeared. Joy to the world rang out as a young girl gave birth alone in a hillside cave. Angels sang of glad tidings while the people lived in fear. The story of Christmas is one filled with ambiguities and contradictions. In this way, it’s not a children’s story but one that reflects the hardship, complexity, and duality of life.

As my experience of Christmas takes on stronger hues of blue, the red and green, the silver and gold also remain. The holidays are not diminished so much as they are expanded to include Christmas past and Christmas present ….while I live into Christmas future, which surely will become even richer in color and meaning.

So it is that I come into this holiday season thankful for the sacred memories of love and joy shared with loved ones now departed and once again wish them peace: yes, peace on earth and in the realm where they now rest. And with joy I celebrate the gift of life born anew with loved ones who this holiday grace my life with their presence.

Can memories of loved ones from Christmases past help you to find a greater depth of meaning in this holiday season?

(Photo credit: almostsummersky via Foter.com / CC BY-NC)

© 2016, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.

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Beyond the Ordinary

In the midst of all the routine aspects of your life, what inspires you to find something special or more meaningful in your life?

A new day begins. We get out of bed, get dressed, grab breakfast, perhaps help family members get ready for the day, and go off to do what we do. In a couple of hours, it’s time for lunch. Then back home. Perhaps there’s an occasional dinner out. But one day is pretty much like the day that came before and much like the day which follows. Our days blur into weeks; weeks into months; then a new year begins and the cycle goes on. Yes, there are some holiday memories and vacations. But most of us lead lives that are routine and predictable. Is that all there is?

That’s a good question: is that all there is? Philosophers, theologians, song writers, and poets have asked this question in a variety of ways over the course of human existence. They’ve all recognized that the days of our lives are largely routine and repetitious. In the midst of life’s ordinary routines, how is it that some people find something more to their lives? When it appears that there’s nothing new but our ordinary tasks, what keeps a person going — finding something beyond the ordinary?

The questions of life’s meaning and purpose have been raised in every generation. While some suggest that there is some ultimate meaning in life, that there is an answer to every question about life’s purpose, I just don’t buy it. Instead, I’ve learned that any meaning and purpose in life is what we discover or create for ourselves.

Finding something more in life beyond our daily tasks requires choosing to discover something more around us. Experiencing life as somehow meaningful or purposeful doesn’t change our day to day routines. Instead, when we experience something beyond the ordinary, it’s because our view about life has changed.

Often, finding something more in life than just the ordinary and routine is based upon our values, beliefs, and experiences. One person may value providing a better future for her children. Because of this value, she commutes by bus each day, holding down two part time jobs when full time employment isn’t available to her. She makes the most money she can to provide a stable home for her children. The low-paying work and exhausting life take on meaning for her as she lives out the value of being a good mother. Another person may value the principle known as the Golden Rule: to treat others the way you want to be treated. Because of his belief, he greets each person he meets, demonstrates a polite courtesy, and lends a hand when he can. There’s a purpose to his life informed by his belief. Another may have experienced something transcendent in nature, so takes time each day to smell the roses or watch a tree grow. Attending to the beauty and wonder of nature creates value in the person’s life. I have friends who bird watch and suspect that this is part of why they sit and wait long hours to catch a glimpse of a particular bird.

Life is transformed into something beyond the ordinary, to something profound and meaningful, by our willingness to engage our ordinary lives in a deeper, more reflective way. By allowing our values, beliefs, and experiences to shape and color the way in which we engage in day to day activities, we begin to experience something richer and deeper in life. That, I believe, is the heart of spirituality.

In what ways can living more reflectively open your life to a greater sense of meaning and purpose?

Photo: CCO source unsplash.com

© 2016, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.

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Gratitude and Hallelujah!

Have you considered that most things that happen in our lives are neither essentially good nor bad but some ambiguous mix that we consider “ordinary?”

Perhaps one of the most haunting melodies in contemporary music is Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah! Since his death on November 7, 2016, the song has been presented in a variety of forms with many different verses.

While the tune is familiar, I suspect that most people don’t realize that Cohen drafted approximately 80 verses for this song. Some verses are familiar to us, like one referring to the Biblical psalmist David who knew a “secret cord” for sacred music or the image of Delilah cutting Samson’s hair. As one digs into the variety of verses written by Cohen, it becomes clear that most are not about a sacred text or religion. Rather, the verses are about life: joys and disappointments; moments of mediocrity and of failure; times of happiness followed by difficult experiences. The melody, written in minor keys, makes the song both mournful and compelling.

In the varied life experiences conveyed in Cohen’s verses to this song, the refrain returns to a simple, “Hallelujah!’ The word is Hebrew. It’s a term found throughout ancient Jewish texts. Its meaning is something like, “Glory to God” or “Blessed be the Name.” In English, we use the more common Latin form: alleluia. But here’s what I think is truly significant: Cohen’s use of the term is not the Christian “Alleluia!” — a word associated with praise, elation and the Easter season marking the resurrection of Jesus. Cohen’s “Hallelujah!” is thoroughly Jewish. What’s the difference?

The spirituality of Judaism is rooted in the here and now, not in a life in the here-after. In a Jewish context, if there is a reason to say, “Hallelujah!” then it’s about the events of life as we know and experience them. Most of our lives are neither totally good nor fully fraught with horrible events. Instead, they are an ambiguous mix of the good and the bad, the happy and the sad, the sunshine and the rain. It’s in this ambiguous mix that forms life as we experience it that Cohen invites us to sing, “Hallelujah!”

In thinking of living with gratitude for life, it’s unbalanced to focus on just the wonderful and amazing moments we experience. That’s just one aspect of our lives. Instead, authentic gratitude is the ability to sing, “Hallelujah!” in the midst of life’s ambiguity.

In the end, I find that perhaps this verse of Cohen’s Hallelujah! best illustrates how gratitude can be experienced in our lives of ambiguous events, intentions, and actions. It’s honest, it’s real, and still leads us to sing, “Hallelujah!”

“I did my best, it wasn’t much
I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch
I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah”

(taken from: http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/leonardcohen/hallelujah.html)

YES! For all the moments of life, Hallelujah!

As you think of your life today, what brings you to sing, “Hallelujah?”

Photo source: unsplash.com CCO Liscense

© 2016, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.

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