School’s out for the holidays. Most of the shopping will be done by the end of this weekend, except for you procrastinators (you know who you are).
Christmas cards were mailed weeks ago. Most of the holiday parties took place earlier in December. This hectic holiday season that began for some right after Halloween and for others right after Thanksgiving is starting to wind down. As it does, take some time to find and appreciate quiet time or stillness.
If you are a Christian, you are about to experience one of the holiest nights of the year. Can you imagine the quiet of a small desert town with no sound except, perhaps, the occasional bleat of a random goat or sheep? Everything is completely still.
Far off in the distance, a baby cries, taking his first breaths. Those cries, piercing the calm, crisp evening air, slowly cease as he drifts off to sleep in his mother’s arms. Is this the kind of night shepherds experienced on the first Christmas?
Several Austrians thought so. Everyone knows the carol “Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht,” or as we in America call it, “Silent Night.” The words were written by a Catholic priest named Joseph Mohr, and the melody was composed by school teacher-musician Franz Gruber. It was first sung by Mohr and Gruber on Christmas Eve of 1818 at St. Nicholas Church in Oberndorf, Austria, where Mohr served as pastor. Mohr played his guitar to accompany their singing instead of the traditional organ. It must have been lovely to hear that carol slowly and reverently sung in the little church surrounded by the majesty of the Alps on a tranquil winter’s night.
A second beautiful Austrian carol is called “Stille, Stille, Stille” and describes the scene of Jesus’ birth. This beautiful Christmas song and lullaby also came from the Salzburg region (probably not far from Mohr’s church) and first appeared in a folksong book in 1865. It describes Mary gently calming Jesus to help him fall asleep with lyrics like “Sleep, sleep, sleep/ My dear little child, sleep!” Mary is just like any other mother trying to comfort her son and rock him gently to sleep.
Many congregants in the New River Valley will be singing these and other carols this Christmas Eve. In addition to these tranquil songs, they will be sharing jubilant hymns like “Angels We Have Heard on High” and “Joy to the World,” or moving carols like “O Holy Night.”
After the joy of fellowship and time spent with friends and family, be sure to take some time to soak in the quiet stillness of that night. There is nothing better than experiencing a peaceful evening outside in winter, especially on Christmas Eve. Robert Frost captured that feeling perfectly in “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening.”
The poem talks about a man stopping to enjoy a quiet December night before his reverie is interrupted by his impatient horse: “He gives his harness bells a shake/To ask if there is some mistake./ The only other sound’s the sweep/Of easy wind and downy flake.” Eventually, the person stopping realizes he must move on from the serenity of the woods and snow because of “promises to keep” and “miles to go” before he sleeps, but you get the feeling he does so reluctantly.
It doesn’t look like snow will be falling on Christmas Eve in the NRV, which is too bad. Snow helps to insulate and muffle even the smallest noises so that the absence of sound is even more noticeable.
If you haven’t experienced it, there is nothing more enjoyable than walking home after the evening church service and savoring the calm of that night. If you drive, take time to go outside at home and experience the night where hopefully “all is calm, all is bright.” In either case, be sure to leave obligations and concerns behind for a time.
Relax and meditate on the meaning of the night and the day to come. You should know you are joined by many others around the world.
Whether you are a Christian or not, take time to immerse yourself in the moment. You might realize you are one small but essential part of everything that is in the universe and that you are truly connected to everyone. It will give you a new perspective.
Feel the stillness and quiet of the night and breathe in that calmness yourself. Discover an island of tranquility in the bustle of the season and find the same still silence that must have surrounded the shepherds that evening over 2000 years ago.
Who knows, you may have a similar feeling when you look upward to the same stars that shown on that bright evening, and even though you may not hear the distant cry of a newborn child, later, you too may be able to find contentment—and sleep in heavenly peace.
Steve Frey is a writer and CEO of Ascendant Educational Services based in Radford.