Silent Night! Holy Night!
Christmas is indeed a beautiful and a joyful occasion for family and friends to share their love and their presence with each other. Either on Christmas Eve or on Christmas day families and friends gather together to sing Christmas carols, share stories, unwrap Christmas gifts, relish a delicious meal, and just spend time together. The entire season is filled with a festive mood: houses and shopping malls decorated with colorful lights, Santa Clause brings hope and smiles in children, Christmas trees filled with ornaments, non-stop Christmas music and songs from radio stations, Christmas movies on different TV channels.. . It is equally a very busy time for some: Christmas parties to be planned, office and friends’ parties to attend, guest lists to be finalized, children’s parties to be seen to, well thought out Christmas gifts to be purchased, greeting cards and gifts to be mailed on time, lot of thought and time going into baking cookies, cakes, and preparing the Christmas meal … Though it is a hectic time still Christmas is a beautiful occasion to cherish.
One day, while driving, I heard, ‘Silent Night Holy Night’ played on the radio. Growing up, I had listened to this lovely hymn so many times in my life. But this time, as I listened to the opening lines of this beautiful hymn, something resonated deep within me. The first two lines of the hymn capture the essence of Christian Spirituality: silent night, holy night; all is calm, all is bright. Silence, pregnant with love for God, leads to holiness and holiness develops as silence deepens. Sacred silence played an important role at the birth of Jesus.
For it is:
• in the silence and calm of the night, away from the noise of the city, the Child was born • in the silence of the night the shepherds heard the good news • in the silence of the nights the Magi followed the Star to the newborn • in the silence of the night the angel asked Joseph to take Mary and the child Jesus to Egypt • in the silence of her heart, Mary kept all these things in her heart
Silence was indispensable for the holy night but it also continued to play an important role in the events that followed the birth of Jesus. Is there a place for silence as we prepare to celebrate Christmas?
• While we busy ourselves with events and things leading up to Christmas, let us not forget the one whose birth we are celebrating. Isn’t our presence the best gift that we can give him? In the days leading up to Christmas, take some time off (even an hour or couple of hours) to be alone with Jesus in silence; just you and him. In the silence of your heart, commune with him and listen to him. He needs you and your presence just as you need him and his presence. What does Christmas mean to me? How does it affect my life in all its spheres? Have I grown to be a better person since last Christmas? What gift does Jesus expect from me? • Teach your children to spend time with Jesus. For example, invite your child to gaze at the various figures in the manger and encourage them to have a conversation with these figures. What do these various figures tell them? What meaning did they have when they witnessed the first Christmas? What was their reaction seeing the child Jesus? If they have to imagine being one of these figures in the manger, what would they want to be and why? How will it affect their life? • Make them listen to the gospel nativity narrative or a Christmas hymn and ask them to pick their favorite line and share their thoughts. • Christmas is about sharing and giving. Let them share how they will develop the quality of sharing in their life. • Quite a few times I have been part of Christmas gatherings which are mostly about having a good time. While there is nothing wrong in that, it would become more meaningful if people gathered could share some of their best Christmas memories, the way Christmas was celebrated when they were young, and what Christmas really means to them now. The sharing can be concluded with a prayer before the meal.
The sacred and the noble silence that surrounded the birth of Jesus and the events that followed his birth continued to play a vital role in his prayer life and mission. Before he began his mission he was led by the Spirit into solitude and silence in the desert and during his public life, for his moments of personal prayer, he chose stillness and silence to be with his Father.
Silence is indispensable for it is:
• in the silence of the womb the fetus develops and grows into a child • in the silence of the earth the seed dies and grows into a plant • in the silence of the night the tired body rejuvenates itself • in silence, the wound (and the broken body) heals itself after a surgery • in silence we hear the whispers of the passing wind • in the silence between thoughts, wisdom is born • in being still we know God
Let us allow the silence of the holy night to accompany us in the coming year, especially in our prayer life. If prayer is to be with the one who loves us (St. Theresa of Avila), being with and loving God goes beyond all our human attempts to express in words the deep longings of the heart. As love deepens, the need for words is transcended. Isn’t it a common experience that the deepest human emotions are expressed not so much with words, but in a comforting hug, a warm embrace, and in just being present to the other? In our social milieu it is really difficult to observe silence and it is awkward to remain silent for a period of time. Silence is mistakenly seen as if something is wrong with the situation and it needs to be fixed. At socials there is so much of noise that we can hardly hear one another. We do everything to circumvent the embarrassing situation of silence. We tend to avoid silence during prayer, at home, in the car, while walking, in the gym; we busy ourselves with our smart phones and social media.
Silent night, holy night! In silence, holiness deepens. In prayer, face to face with God, our false ego falls apart. We let Christ’s presence become our own. Can any of our gifts to the child Jesus be compared to the priceless gift that Christ is ready to share with us? On his birthday, it is he who is willing to share with us what really will make us happy and peaceful.
For holiness to deepen, let sacred silence be the ground in which the seed of our spiritual life is sown.
• on a daily basis set apart a period of silence (15-30 minutes) • once a week devote couple of hours to be alone with God • once a month spend half a day in prayer • once a year take a day or two for a spiritual retreat • participate in a silent retreat • practice meditation • be part of a prayer group whose sole purpose is growing in God