Spiritual But Not Religious

Our monthly feature seeks to offer open-minded, clarifying, and meaningful responses to readers’ questions about spirituality. Send your questions to The Resident.

This month, rather than responding to a specific question, I’m simply noting that this is a Christmas season like no other we have experienced. A time that is normally crowded, literally and figuratively, with guests or with travel, shared meals, parties, concerts and church services, not to mention frantic shopping alongside hundreds of others, is now both a bit lonely and even more anxious than usual.

I suspect that whether we are religious or not, spiritual or not, Christian or not, December is a difficult time. The reasons are perfectly understandable and possibly not connected with our winter holidays – Christmas or Hanukkah or Festivus or what-have-you. The end of the year includes real deadlines arising from work or finances. Cold days and long nights make us vulnerable to seasonal depression. Our thoughts are filled with memories both happy and sad. The media bombards us with messages that we need to do one more thing, buy one more thing, eat or drink one more thing – that doing more and having more will guarantee joy and satisfaction. This year we face all of these pressures and are deprived of routines and company that might otherwise help us cope.

One year early on in our marriage, Deb and I found ourselves overcommitted with work and with seasonal expectations from colleagues, friends, and family – but in truth, of course, mostly from ourselves. We decided together to strip the holiday down. What were the essential elements, we asked ourselves, that meant Christmas to us and our small children? A tree, we concluded. A few gifts for the immediate family. A single batch or two of cookies rather than dozens each of multiple kinds.

I can’t claim we have altogether conquered the seasonal demons: Our expectations contract and expand over the years, but we try to be aware of where the expectations are coming from and whether they are reasonable. Perhaps this year is an opportunity to let Christmas be the quiet season that nature offers – to let some time around the fireside be enough, and to give our attention to our most intimate friends and family. Let’s raise our glasses together by Zoom, Skype or Facetime – we wish you, in the truest sense, a happy Christmas.

The Rev. Reid Hamilton
St Vincent’s Church