Professor Offers Suggestions for Spiritual Aspects of the Season
ATLANTA— There are several easy ways for families to highlight the spiritual aspects of the holiday season, and prevent being overwhelmed by commercialism, according to Dr. Loyd Allen, professor of church history and spiritual formation at Mercer University’s James and Carolyn McAfee School of Theology.
Taking a few minutes each day during the busy holidays can help reduce the amount of stress caused by the overt commercialism of the season, he said. Reading the original Gospel birth narratives and observing a few moments of silence can go a long way.
“Ours is a noisy, busy religious holiday,” said Allen, the author of Crossroads in Christian Growth. “In this hectic time of year, one of the best ways to get to the heart of the season is to go to the source, the biblical stories of Jesus’ announcement and birth.”
By taking time for a few moments of silence every day; by reading the Christmas narratives in the New Testament; and by practicing hospitality, such as giving to the needy, the holiday season can become a spiritual experience, and not a stressful one, Allen said.
Here are a few tips Allen shared on how to keep Christmas and the holiday season spiritual:
· Keep silence. Practice brief periods of silence once or twice a day, perhaps in the same place, such as in front of the Christmas tree or another symbol of the season. “Silence, even in small doses, is a good antidote to the stress of the season,” Allen said. “Silence allows our thoughts and bodies to become receptive to the peace, the shalom, that is at the heart of Christmas.”
· Read the Christmas narratives in the books of Matthew and Luke in the New Testament, taking about 10 to 15 minutes per sitting, preferably in a quiet place. “The early Christians prayed scripture by reading it slowly and repeatedly with ample time for reflection,” he said. Reflect on what the scenes looked, sounded and felt like, and then respond in prayer. “Practice this sacred reading once each day so that by Christmas day, it will have soaked deep into your spiritual awareness,” Allen said.
· Practice hospitality, such as spending time at a local soup kitchen or food pantry. “The Christmas spirit is one of giving to the stranger,” Allen said. “As you work, inwardly pray that you may see Jesus in those to whom you offer your service, and that they may see Jesus in you.”
After Christianity became mainly a Gentile religion, and the pagan calendar was converted to Christian purposes, Christmas came to be observed on Dec. 25, Allen said.
“In our time, two calendars still compete for our seasonal loyalty,” he said. “One is the Christian calendar, which is focused on the coming of the Christ child in simplicity and peace; the other is the commercial calendar, which is focused on promising fulfillment by frantic activity and material acquisition.”
The best way to avoid having the true Christian and even human values of Christmas hijacked is to intentionally observe the sacred calendar of Advent, handed down to us through centuries by faithful Christians, said Allen, who holds master of divinity and a doctor of philosophy degrees from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.
Advent, which begins in November, is a season of preparation for the coming of the Christ child and is observed through symbols, such as the Advent wreath, Advent devotional books and special Sunday services dedicated to peace, love and hope.
Founded in 1833, Mercer University has campuses in Macon and Atlanta as well as three regional academic centers. With 10 schools and colleges, the University offers programs in liberal arts, business, engineering, education, medicine, nursing, pharmacy, law and theology. For 15 consecutive years, U.S. News & World Report has named Mercer University as one of the leading universities in the South.