In this “Christmas Rest” blog I’m going against a pervasive stance that people should privatise their faith views (unless they are part of a current trend of social acceptability). I think this is generated by a tension about upsetting social harmony in the face of differences amongst us. I hope that I can be transparent about my faith in a way that is never pushy or judgemental towards others. Of course genuine transparency is living a faith not just talking it. Additionally I work to stay open to and listen well to others views and beliefs – a good ‘growing up’ opportunity.
A Time for Rest: Christmas reflections
Over all of the relationship challenges and busyness I will draw deep peace from the Christmas message.
Yesterday my work team celebrated Christmas and year end in the garden of one of our group. It was a truly pleasant time of sharing good food and refreshments, of connecting to broader family and laughing together as we negotiated the Kris Kringle gift process. I savoured the warmth of hospitality as well as the December air of summer ‘down time’ that marks a southern hemisphere Christmas.
I was full of gratitude for the good people I have the opportunity to work with, both now and in the past. The responsibilities for the lunchtime event were pretty evenly shared with everyone pitching in. As far as I could observe, no one was over -functioning and no one was under -contributing. It was good to experience this principle of non-anxious and balanced offerings in action. This is an example of seeing how the concepts from Bowen theory have assisted in building a constructive workplace culture where each individual has reasonable space to contribute without feeling over loaded or propped up.
At such a work Christmas gathering I particularly experience the intersection of my Christian faith and my professional interest in Bowen family systems theory. Before we all tucked into our main course buffet I shared a few reflections with my team members and their guests. This included recounting a Bible verse from my morning church service that I find deeply comforting. They are recorded words of Jesus: “Come to me, all who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest.”
I’ aware of some of the varying burdens my colleagues are carrying, ranging from end of year tiredness to major family health crises. At this time of year especially, I think there is a hunger for deeper rest; to not feel abandoned to our insufficient resources in carrying our own load.
From my study and application of Bowen family systems theory I utilise astute research observations of relationship patterns to be a more responsible contributor to family and community. My Christian faith is in a distinctly different place, providing eternal life purpose and a compass for goodness and justice. I’m committed to not pushing my faith position onto my work colleagues or any others but I do seek to be transparent about its importance in my life. I hope that I convey to others an openness to hear their particular faith story – which is frequently a tale of abandonment of spiritual faith.
Interestingly Bowen was intrigued by his observations of supernatural phenomena amongst humans and wanted to investigate this further in his life research of the human development. He did not live long enough to take this research interest very far. For me the experience of key times of supernatural interjection in my life undergirds my ongoing beliefs. My faith is experienced both intellectually and emotionally. It is based on an intellectual commitment to studying scripture, including comparative reading from other traditions and criticisms. Probably more importantly it is based on the lived emotional experience of being loved and directed by a force outside of the limits of my human condition. I clearly recall as a twelve year old struggling with harsh isolation from peers and as I read words of scripture I had a visceral experience of the presence of Jesus with me. This has been repeated many times at the various stages of my life – particularly (but not exclusively) in times of deep need. Yes I have certainly experienced times of doubt and have sometimes struggled to intellectually reconcile the miraculous claims of the Bible documents about God’s activity amongst humanity. Yet into these times of grappling I have repeatedly experienced the upholding and encouragement of a loving force from outside of myself. For me this is the presence of God offering rest and assurance. It is not religion but rather relationship.
During the Christmas season I will celebrate this precious rest and presence. I expect I will also be drawing from what I learn from Bowen’s theory to manage myself in predictably intense relationship experiences. I will watch for the sneaky guises that tension can take in me and will work to deal with these in myself rather than to spread it unhelpfully amongst others by such postures as over- sensitivity, over- controlling or distancing. Over all of the relationship challenges and busyness I will draw deep peace from the Christmas message. I will allow the beauty of ancient carols to again to connect to my lived experience of a personal God [Emmanuel] who offers rest for my soul.
Rather than questions for reflection here is a familiar carol that speaks of the rest offered in the Christmas message:
Silent night, holy night!
All is calm, All is bright
Round yon Virgin, Mother and Child
Holy Infant so Tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace.
If you would like more to reflect on about the peace of Christmas here is a free mp3: by New York based Rev Dr Tim Keller
1: Does Religion Lead to Peace on Earth? – Tim Keller – 16 mins
At Christmas time, we sing about peace on earth, but does religion actually lead us there? It seems that religion more regularly leads to division and marginalization. What if anything, does the Christian message offer that can turn our skepticism into a living, breathing movement toward peace on earth?
Does religion lead to peace on earth? – Gospel in Life
‘Christmas Rest’ – Jenny Brown