A Spiritual Rest during the Holidays

“Yet with the woes of sin and strife the world hath suffered long;

Beneath the angel-strain have rolled two thousand years of wrong;

And man, at war with man, hears not the love song which they bring:

O hush the noise, ye men of strife, And hear the angels sing.”

from “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” by Edmund Sears

Woes, sin, suffering, years of wrongdoing, war, strife… it seems like I’ve been hearing more of those words than usual these past few years.

So here we are in the end of the year “holiday”. But is it possible to find rest with our spirit so weary from life around us?

Many of the original holidays were holy-days, a time to focus on the spiritual health of individuals, a community or nation. They were intended as an opportunity to put the day-to-day work on hold, in order to have time to intentionally celebrate or remember significant spiritual principles or events.

What about now? Are spiritual matters that important these days?

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I think so. I believe that we live eternally as a spirit, we have a soul, and we dwell in a body.

It’s easy and natural to focus on the physical and mental parts of our lives. I think that’s because they are, for the most part, visible and tangible. The spiritual side is intangible, however. And intangible may mean hard it’s hard to grasp its significance.

It might be that our spirit just doesn’t make as much noise, so we need some inner quiet to hear it.

What brought this to my attention was really listening to the lyrics of some classic Christmas songs. In them I heard a longing for relief from the powers of evil, from guilt, and from the tendency to sin, to go astray from what is right. And I also heard words of joy and peace coming to hearts of those who had found spiritual hope or rest.

Here are a few examples:

“Long lay the world in sin and error pining, ’til he appear’d and the soul felt its worth. A thrill of hope the weary soul rejoices…” (from “O Holy Night”)

“Then let us all with one accord sing praises to our heavenly Lord;
That hath made heaven and earth of naught, and with his blood mankind hath bought” (from “The First Noel”)

“Fear not then”, said the Angel, “Let nothing you affright… this day is born a savior… To free all those who trust in Him from Satan’s power and might…Oh tidings of comfort and joy!” (from “God rest ye Merry Gentlemen”)

“No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground; he comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found. He rules the world with truth and grace and makes the nations prove the glories of His righteousness and wonders of His love!” (from “Joy to the World”)

We need those things: goodness, light, a savior, mercy, a feeling of worth, reconciliation, fearlessness, deliverance, blessings, truth, grace, love. And when we can’t depend on our physical or mental powers, or mankind, scientists or governments to give them to us, we need to look at the spiritual, the divine.

I know it helps me immensely to focus my mind on spiritual good news. My spiritual beliefs center on Jesus, who created this beautiful world and everything in it, is the highest authority and power, paid the sin-debt I owed, and walks with me through life. What a relief for my conscience, and peace for each day. Now that is tidings of comfort and joy!

This holiday, especially after the strain of 2020, I hope you will find a quiet time to attend to your spirit, get out in nature, talk to God, hear his voice, and respond to Him.

And I wish you a healthy and happy New Year in 2021!

Thunder and Lightning and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

While listening to a radio program which mentioned Santa’s reindeer in the song “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”, something occurred to my mom about Donner and Blitzen. In her native German language, donner means thunder, and blitzen means lightning. We were both curious to know if the creator of the song chose these names because of these meanings.

Well!  What fun we had on the phone, her asking questions and me surfing the Internet to find the answers. The first link I landed on said that the song came from the book.

Book? Rudolph was a book before it was a song? Now I’m really interested! Who wrote the book, and when?

In 1939, Robert L. May, an ad man for Montgomery Ward retail store, was asked by his boss to write a little story that could be made into one of the booklets that the department store gave away to their customers at Christmas time. He created Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer in a rhyming story poem.

May’s brother-in-law, songwriter Johnny Marks, wrote the lyrics and melody for a song based on the character in the book. He borrowed most of the reindeer names from the classic 1823 poem “A Visit from Saint Nicholas” (more commonly known as “Twas the Night before Christmas”) written by Major Henry Livingston, Jr. or Clement Moore.

And now we come to the answer to our original question. According to ThoughtCo.com,

The 1823 poem “A Visit from Saint Nicholas” refers to “Dunder” and “Blixem”…Dutch names written into the poem by Livingston.

Only in later versions, modified by Moore in 1844, were the two names changed to German: Donder (close to Donner, thunder) and Blitzen (lightning), to better rhyme with “Vixen.”

Finally, for some reason, in the song “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” Johnny Marks turned “Donder” into “Donner.” Whether he made the change because he knew German or because it just sounded better is uncertain. In any event, there is certainly some logic in using German Donner and Blitzen (thunder and lightning) for the names.

Since 1950 or so, the two reindeer names have been Donner and Blitzen in both “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and the “A Visit from Saint Nicholas.”

So, Mom, now we know! Here are some other fun links to check out:

The Archive.org video of the 1948 Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer film, including some stanzas from the original story poem by Robert.L.May

The touching story from the December 22, 1975 Gettysburg Times newspaper, “Robert May Tells How Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Came Into Being”  (Part 2)

An NPR webpage with audio of their interview with Robert L. May’s granddaughter in which she reads the poem. The webpage includes images of the original color sketches for the book drawn by Robert May’s friend in the art department, Denver Gillen.

Happy New Year everybody!