Ruth Woodliff-Stanley

Holy Days

Christmas Day


December 25, 2019

Revised Common Lectionary

Arts & Architecture


Leonard Cohen


Pentatonix' rendition of Cohen's, "Hallelujah."

Consider the line, "Love is not a victory march; it's a cold and it's a broken 'hallelujah,'" in light of the Incarnation.

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Spirituality & Psychology

O Little Town of Bethlehem

Stephen G. Mackereth

The Harvard Crimson

A reflection on Philips Brooks' penning of the hymn, "O Little Town of Bethlehem."

Pay attention to Mackereth's commentary about verse 4.

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Science & Nature

Widen the Window: Training Your Brain and Body to Thrive During Stress and Recover from Trauma

Elizabeth Stanley

Apple Podcasts

Interview with Elizabeth Stanley, PhD concerning her work on training the body in mindfulness to increase resiliency.

Listen particularly to minutes 13:56 —20:17. Notice what Stanley says about how cultivating moment to moment wisdom and courage in our minds and bodies can increase the possibility for choice in us.

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History & Culture

Northern lights; Nature's own rhythms

Jon Brown


Brief video account of musician Jon Brown's journey to Norway.

Listen to Jon Brown's reflection that, "Sometimes you need to step out of the studio if you want to discover great ideas." Notice how the images from Norway impact you.

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Can we see the light in the birth canal?


The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness–on them light has shined. Isaiah 9:2

Incarnation comes through the birth canal. As Cohen wrote, (listen to today's arts and architecture lesson), "Love is not a victory march. It's a cold and it's a broken 'hallelujah.'" As we push through the dark, wet, alien spaces that are the traumatic conditions always surrounding new life, can we see the light awaiting us on the outside of our only known reality? I am clear this is a question whose answer we cannot know on the womb side of the trauma of birth. But God knows we hope to see the light. And that hope propels us to keep moving. It is the hope to which Philips Brooks attests in verse 4 of "O Little Town of Bethlehem," as Mackereth notes in our spirituality and psychology lesson. Our capacity to cultivate wisdom and courage in our bodies and minds, as Elizabeth Stanley describes in our science and nature lesson, gives some substance to the hope that we can at least see glimmers of light when we find ourselves pressed hard through an alien canal which seems to be forcing us where we do not wish to go. Sometimes, in order to cultivate new capacities in our minds and bodies, we need to change our perspective–by stepping away from what has become too familiar and immersing ourselves in a strange new world, as Jon Brown did on his journey to Norway (see today's history and culture lesson).

Christmas speaks into the trauma that is postmodern life with a singular moment that allows us to hold naive wonder together with the knowledge of all the suffering that will transpire in the life of the Christ child. This juxtaposition reveals to us how the light continues to call him and, hence, all of us, forward through and beyond the unthinkable:

Where children pure and happy
Pray to the blessed Child,
Where misery cries out to Thee,
Son of the Mother mild;
Where Charity stands watching
And Faith holds wide the door,
The dark night wakes, the glory breaks,
And Christmas comes once more.

I give thanks, perhaps more than any other year, for ones dear to me who have taught me to look for the moment when the glory breaks. Over and over again.

Merry Christmas.