It’s Christmas – Part 2: Go on a Treasure Hunt

It has been a difficult and challenging time over the last week here in Australia. This little missive goes to 8 countries over 5 continents and it has been clear from the feedback I have been getting that what has happened here in Sydney and Cairns over the last week has deeply impacted people all over the world. That is not a dazzling insight, but I have found it comforting that so many people are reaching out from so far away.

And what has happened in Australia is not the worst of it – with broken hearts we think of the parents and families of the children and teachers massacred in Pakistan. And if we were to reflect back on 2014, there are many more such tragedies across the world.

A sad and morbid opening, perhaps, but it is impossible to ignore these events, or to pass by without stopping to acknowledge, to validate, to offer a prayer, however tiny in the circumstance. There is a powerful poem by W.H.Auden that always come to mind in times such as these. It speaks to me of that awful sense of loss when loved ones are taken away. “Why are the buses still running?, why are people going about as if nothing has happened? Don’t they know our loved ones are gone?”

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message They Are Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

They were our North, our South, our East and West,
Our working week and Sunday rest,
Our noon, Our night, our talk, our song;
We thought love would last for ever: We were wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

I did not send a note last week for that very reason – I did not want to go on as if all was normal. Because it wasn’t. But even in the midst of the awfulness, what shone through in Sydney was the light of Hope, the power of Community, the overwhelming sense of Unity. I encourage you, if you get the chance, to visit Martin Place and walk among the flowers and read the notes and cards.

Martin place 2

My original notes for last week spoke of going on a treasure hunt. It was a witty piece on ways to make Christmas fun and to focus on all the good things that happened in the year almost gone. What we focus on grows, and I find doing a treasure hunt provides a positive focus coming into the family time, as opposed to thoughts and fears and often mounting dread that this Christmas will be just like all the others.

Well my Moment of Clarity this week is indeed to suggest we go on a Treasure Hunt – before, during and after THIS particular Christmas. Often, at times like this, we hear commentators say “this is a good time to go home and hug your loved ones”. Well more than ever this time. But let us do more than that. Let us choose to say “its Christmas…”. Let us choose to be grateful for what we have even if it has been a year of loss. Let us refuse the invitation to react to pain however it is expressed, but let us respond in love and with kindness, grace and gratitude.

As I read over this, I realise it is really a note to myself. You can read it if you want. I know I NEED to hear this, especially THIS Christmas.

I pray you have a memorable Christmas, memorable for the peace and joy, kindness and love that pervades the whole season.

All the Best, Brian.

“It’s Christmas…” – Part 1.

We are well into December now, and Christmas draws near. It is a wonderful time for families to get together, often from far away, and for relatives and friends to reunite and celebrate and catch up on all the news. The reality for many, however, is that Christmas is not really a good time for a whole lot of reasons.

As many of you may know, I grew up in Ireland and for me Christmas was a magical time. It was my favourite time of the year. It was a major shock to me when I came to Australia to find out that many were indifferent to, did not enjoy or  even hated Christmas. I was a grown man yet it floored me. “How could you not love Christmas?” I cried, “It’s the best time of the year”.

I seriously anguished over this for years. I was amazed as I observed a general sense that many people just wanted Christmas to be over so they could get away on holidays. My first Christmas in Sydney impacted me so much, I went back to Dublin for the next 8 years. I loved the Carol-Singers, the party atmosphere and the warm bonhomie that overtook my city of birth.

I grew up in a large family (large by Australian standards – fairly normal by Irish standards). For those of you who came from big families, isn’t it amazing how siblings who grew up in the same house could have completely different views on their childhood. Certainly, most of my sisters have a fairly different view of childhood than mine. I struggled in those years, struggled to find a place to fit in, struggled with heavy-duty bullying at school etc,etc.  My experience of life would likely have put me in the place where I too, hated Christmas.

But Christmas was awesome! It was just the best time.

It was only in recent years that I got the revelation of why it was so special. My Mother had a simple but powerful saying that she used throughout the Christmas season:

“Its Christmas…”!

That meant a WHOLE lot more than just the words. To my Mum, it meant that this was a special time. It was a sacred time, the time we celebrated the birth of Jesus. It meant that we did not behave as we would through the rest of the year. It meant we did not argue, we did not raise voices and shout, we did not fight. It meant that we got along, we shared everything and we were good-natured and pleasant to be with.

It was so powerful. All my Mother had to say was “It’s Christmas…” and that was it. Whenever tempers flared or disputes arose, you would hear my Mother say “It’s Christmas…”. And that would mean the end of any hostilities. Everyone would step back and stand down. Most of my years were pretty ordinary,  but at Christmas – “It was Christmas…”!, and it was a haven of love and peace that I have never forgotten.

And that is my Moment of Clarity this week. As we go into the festive season, remember  “It’s Christmas…”!  Remember what the celebration is really about and perhaps choose my Mother’s words, or your own, to be like an ‘umpire of peace’, declaring this season to be a time of peace and joy.

Have a peaceful and thoughtful week.

All the Best, Brian.