Reflections from a Quaker household on the time called Christmas

By Jill Segger
December 24, 2015

As early as I can remember, and certainly before I had words for the concept, I have known that there is a string in the human psyche which is placed to vibrate in sympathy with a frequency generated beyond our material and circadian existence.

This was not the kind of knowledge gained from organised instruction. It was just there. An awareness, at times all but obscured, but at others as plain as my own hands and feet, of the Divine 'other'. In childhood, it would mostly come unlooked for in moments of solitude, and frequently in unlikely surroundings – the flight of green, mossy steps joining our back yard to that of the bakery next door was a place of encounter, as was the tiny shed on my grandfather's allotment with its fragrance of earth, wood and vegetables.

These days, I find it best in the gathered quiet of a Meeting for Worship and in the reverent attention due to poetry, great music or the beauty of the natural world. It comes in stillness and eludes me when I am surrounded by noise and activity. Not that there is anything intrinsically wrong with these conditions and indeed, I welcome the necessary stimulation and companionship they offer. I am neither a mystic nor an anchoress.

But sometimes, the string hums gently amid daily busyness and the tentative harmonics call me to clear the doors of perception. This season called Christmas is such a time.

Quakers tend to keep a more low-key Christmas than is the social norm. We have no liturgies nor do we believe that any time or season is more 'holy' than another. If we heed the Nativity, it is in a way which has as little as possible to do with the trappings which the commercial and advertising world would have us believe are essential.

So for this household, there has been no present buying, no storing in of rich food, no dressing of a tree nor singing of carols. This is not joyless puritanism – we don't condemn, we just choose otherwise. And in so choosing, I find myself alert to those quiet harmonic overtones which can so easily go unheard beneath the sound of a less true string echoing to what advertising culture encourages us to call 'the magic of Christmas'.

That echo may be distorted but nonetheless, it owes its existence to the 'otherness' of a unique night and its enduring myth. And here, I insist upon the real meaning of that word: not a synonym for falsehood, but a story told about truth.

The story of the Nativity sounds deep to truth. For that reason, masterpieces of visual art, literature and music have been closely entwined with it for centuries. Despite appropriation in the cause of 'feel-good' purchasing, these withstand changing times because they are close to that authentically taut string which waits for the touch that will set it in motion.

So on this night when the circle of the eternal – in a way I experience but for which I have no explanation – comes very close to the orbit of the temporal, the small but insistent hum in my spirit is amplified by these words from the Wisdom of Solomon: “All things were lying in peace and silence, and night in her swift course was half spent, when thine almighty Word leapt from thy royal throne in heaven.”

Let us make room at the inn of our own hearts. A world where violence is the stock response to conflict needs it; a political and economic system which so often values self-seeking above compassion and truth needs it; every single one of us, whatever our rank, condition or allegiance, needs it. We might not 'believe' after the manner of creeds and catechisms, but if we listen for that deep note, rather than seeking to feel 'Christmassy', then perhaps, like the shepherds and kings of UA Fanthorpe's beautiful poem BC:AD, we may find we have walked “haphazard by starlight into the kingdom of heaven.”


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© Jill Segger is an Associate Director of Ekklesia with particular involvement in editorial issues. She is a freelance writer who contributes to the Church Times, Catholic Herald, Tribune, Reform and The Friend, among other publications. Jill is an active Quaker. See: http://www.journalistdirectory.com/journalist/TQig/Jill-Segger You can follow Jill on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.co/quakerpen

Keywords:quakers | christmas
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