A Christmas Gift, Perhaps Two. Be Open to Good Energy. 5.8 Billion People Are Looking For It.
Notes on the Sunday address by Dr Francis Macnab – December 21, 2014
Albert Einstein is often attributed with saying that life can be lived in one of two ways: as though nothing is a miracle, or as though everything is a miracle. In this pre-Christmas address, delivered in the shadow of recent terrible events in Australia, and against the backdrop of ongoing conflicts abroad, Dr Macnab asked, “Is there really a life full of miracles?”
It is easy to become overwhelmed by the sheer dimension of horror and ugliness in the world; on a smaller scale, our everyday bad behaviour toward one another (in traffic, in conversations) comes into relief at Christmas. “Kindness can be in flight from the Christmas conversation,” said Dr Macnab.
A danger to watch for, suggests Dr Macnab, is that our brains can “solidify” around the flat signal of our everyday pettiness. What is needed is an injection of good energy to restore a dynamic, healthy brain signal. Dr Macnab gives the example, repeated often at Christmas in the information age, of friends and family gathered around a screen lit up with the image of a distant loved one’s face through the power of Skype. In such scenarios, moods are lifted and the connections between people are strengthened through shared expressions of joy.
“We can only be in awe that God has poured upon us so many gifts.”
– Letter to the Ephesians
At times, it may only take a word to shut us down; yet just one word (or one person, one experience) can light the brain up with new activity. Dr Macnab looks to W. B. Yeats to remind us that the discontented or low functioning brain (in the sense of mood) can suddenly tap into a new, different energy:
An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress…
—W.B. Yeats, “Sailing to Byzantium”
In the face of our sorrows, our interpersonal troubles, our civilization and its discontents, Dr Macnab points to the need for two gifts this Christmas, each represented by a single word: comfort and joy.
Comfort comes in many forms. Music can comfort us, restoring our energy. A quiet place can be comforting. Comfort can arrive through the power of a presence, whether it is another person in our life, in our memory or in our imagination. Following the siege tragedy in Sydney, a woman said of her friend who died, “Her bravery and strength were, and will continue to be, a source of comfort and inspiration to me.”
“Joy is an open landscape, rich in colour,” said Dr Macnab. “Joy is the powerful emotion that we covet… All too often we leave joy unattended, unlearned, unpractised.”
In one of the major Biblical teachings, joy is about finding the lost object. However, not all of our losses in life can be recovered, so adapting to loss is a major part of psychological teaching. It is difficult to feel joy in the midst, or in the wake, of loss. Satisfaction and joy require us to reinvest in ourselves, in a new strength after our many losses. We need that strength to move us past our regret, our remorse, our resentment and our demand for reparation, to arrive finally at another “R” word, strongly associated with joy: release.
Dr Macnab sums things up well when he says, “We need to develop a capacity to grow in ourselves, to grow real experiences of joy. We need to develop the capacities to grow trees in the deserts of our experience.”