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?

DCF 1.0

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!

I Bring You Great News

Christmas angel
Good tidings of great joy…Emmanuel…God with us.

 

Christmas, to me, is evidence that God wants to be with us—near us—not far away.

 

That changes everything I used to believe about God being a looming taskmaster whose main purpose was to hand out a list of rules and dire consequences with a warning, “Now don’t mess up!”

 

Christmas shows the fallacy of a distant, indifferent Higher Being, chuckling and sighing as we struggle on our own to figure out the mysteries of our spiritual path and the secret to happiness and peace.

 

Christmas is the most visible and tangible expression of God pro-actively coming to live our lives with us—first in Jesus over 2,000 years ago, and ever since then in his Spirit—simply because he loves us. And that reaching for us, pursuing us, walking with us in every experience we have, was not a one-time thing. It has happened since the beginning of humankind, and happens everyday. And if we look with eyes of faith we’ll see it.

 

That is the good news the angels told of in Bethlehem. “Good”? I would call this great news! No wonder they sang their highest praises to glorify God.

 

God reaching for us...by sending Jesus
God reaching for us…by sending Jesus

 

 

Photos courtesy of Waiting for the Word at Flickr:  Good Tidings 08 https://www.flickr.com/photos/waitingfortheword/6369654687, God the Father 11 https://www.flickr.com/photos/waitingfortheword/5546445177

Review of Upside, by Bradley R.E. Wright

Upside: Surprising Good News About the State of Our World by Bradley R.E. Wright, PhD

I’m always interested in hearing good news, but rarely expect positive reporting about the state of the world because I see so much in the television broadcast that discourages me. In fact, I approached this book with a bit of cynicism.

But Dr. Wright offers an encouraging look at the status of the world’s economy, education, relations, health, crime, freedom, faith and environment, backed up by statistics. He also proves that if we compare our lives today with previous years, we have a lot to be thankful for. I have been amazed at all the truths I would never have known if not for this book.

The author starts by discussing why most of us have a strong feeling that the world is in worse shape than ever before, and he counts the cost of pessimism. We learn about the doom-and-gloomers over the years, and how few of their predictions actually came true; now we can keep that in mind the next time we hear dark predictions on the news.

The first two chapters shift my perceptions, as I realize how much of what I “know” about the state of our world is based upon what is reported by the media for a drama-hungry audience. I also see how my perception of “the good old days” (all the years before I was born) is skewed and how much better today’s world is in many ways.

Some positive statistics about education and intelligence are an example of one pleasant surprise. Test scores are holding steady or increasing for the years since the early 1970’s when the U.S. started testing students, and students are taking more advanced math classes than their parents took. Education levels have risen around the world significantly since the turn of the century, and class sizes have actually decreased over time, despite that fact that more people attend school.

To me, one of the most shocking statistics Dr. Wright presents is the life expectancy chart. Did you know that the average life expectancy in the United States in 1900 was only about 45 years? As recently as 1950, India and China had life expectancies of about 40 years, but now both are up to about 65 years, a 50% increase in only a half-century!

In 1900 half the workers in Rhode Island factories and mills were eleven years old or younger, some as young as six or seven working twelve-hour shifts. That makes me realize how easy my own childhood was by comparison. This and other revelations makes me tend to agree with the author that the world, in many ways, is actually getting better.

Would you believe it if someone told you that our leisure time has increased? It has, but our technology makes us feel busier than ever. Crime rates have gone down—the data is available to prove it—and there is a worldwide increase in freedom. These and other facts are a balm to our news-shy souls.

I am not a history buff, and rarely study the economic history of any country, but I have learned a lot of it from these pages. The author, a professor of sociology, also gives examples of Christians making a difference in each issue he discusses. I appreciate his plain writing, his objectivity and his sense of humor.

In a book so full of data and graphs, it would be easy for a reader to get overwhelmed and put it down. But the truths revealed are so interesting, it doesn’t get dry. In places, however, the text was so detailed that it was far more than I needed, so I scanned it until a new topic was introduced. I valued the graphs, which were simple to understand and instantly gave a visual perception of the excellent research.

The author’s goal is to separate fact and fiction, and he does that well, so that we can recognize and celebrate the genuine progress and successes on this earth. I recommend this book. It is worth reading for an accurate assessment of the state of the world, especially our country, and an appreciation of how far we’ve gone in the past century.

[Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the Bethany House book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.]