After all the physical gifts have been opened and celebrated, let us use the 12 days of Christmas to give the true gifts that can’t be bought at any store or online
Many of us are familiar with the song, “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” I am not sure if it is not meant to be a memory exercise as well as a fun tune to commemorate the birth of Jesus and the seasonal custom of gift giving.
In actuality, this medieval song denotes the period from Dec. 25, Christmas Day, through Jan. 6, which is the Epiphany.
The Epiphany is the feast day celebrating the arrival of the three kings from the orient at the birth scene of the infant Jesus. They bring him their gifts acknowledging him as king, human and divine. The over the top extravagance of the gifts given are only matched by today’s extreme marketing to buy more, bigger and better gifts each year.
However, what if we decided to give a different type of gift over these 12 days?
In her book, “Simple Abundance,” author Sarah Ban Breathnach has a few compelling alternatives to the giving of things. These gifts instead would be, in order: undivided attention, enthusiasm, creative energy, simple seasonal pleasures, tenderness, good cheer, beauty, communication, surprises, wonder, peaceful surroundings and joy.
I am choosing to focus on the first of these “gifts of the self,” which is the gift of undivided attention, or as I like to call it, “sacred listening.”
Have you ever experienced this gift? Perhaps you received this gift from a teacher, trusted friend, parent or grandparent, who listened to you during a time of great struggle, joy or even a time a difficult decision had to be considered.
Sometimes this gift has been given in a simple, quiet way, as just being with you and sitting beside you in silence as you try to work it out.
As a grandparent, I work at giving this gift of “sacred listening” as often as I can. When I am with my grandchildren, especially driving in the car, the radio is off, cell phones are off and we are in a quiet zone, giving total attention to the conversation at hand.
When they were small the conversations were basic — how their day went, what friend said what or what was their current favorite toy or TV show. As they have grown into their teen years, talks about politics, religion and death are not off limits. My husband and I created a safe place for them to express their take on their lives. It is a privilege and an honor as we listen to them formulate and witness them getting clarity about what they believe in without judgment.
This is not an easy task, this non-judgmental listening, but it is so worth the effort and supports their becoming their authentic selves.
So after all the physical gifts have been opened and celebrated, let us use the 12 days of Christmas and actually carry it throughout the year, to give the true gifts that can’t be bought at any store or online.
German theologian Meister Eckhart urged us to “be ready at all times for the gifts of God …”
The gifts of ourselves are the only true and hold gifts we can give each other. The physical gifts of things may change our mood in the moment, to surprise, happiness or glee, but over time it is the gifts of ourselves that can create a dynamic shift for the good in ourselves, those we love and even the stranger we meet along our way.
Rev. JoEllen Werthman is pastor of St. Mary Magdalen Parish of the National Catholic Church of North America in Bensalem. From a Faith Perspective is a weekly column written by members of local faith communities.