Holidays are a time to contemplate the holy


For The Beachcomber

Ready or not, the holiday season is upon us. For many it is a time of celebration; for others it is a time of feeling disconnected. For all the inequitable spending, giving and getting, rushing around and preparations, what’s the purpose? What good are the holidays? Why not just stick with winter break, save a few bucks and call it a vacation?

Why? It depends on your values. Holidays are observed to remind us of what our core values are about.

The word “holidays” appears to have originated in 12th century England as a religious term combining the words “holy” and “days.” Apparently workers were given extended time off to prepare for Christmas. This season of holy-days as we know it now is shared by numerous religions as a time for naming, preparation, celebrating and proclaiming something believed to be holy.

What is “holy”? The holy refers to that which is real and authentic, true and sacred. It’s understood to be the real deal, something we put faith in and can rely upon to be true. Like investing in the importance of family togetherness, trusting in the loyalty of a spouse or joyfully betting on the goodness of God.

The flip side is the profane — not necessarily something bad, but something that distracts us from what is real, beguiled by an illusion that amounts to no more than a facsimile of truth. Like defining the successful life in terms of comfort, possessions and prestige while ignoring the needs of a neighbor.

One might ask who’s to decide what’s sacred and what’s profane? In his book, “The Idea of the Holy,” Rudolf Otto defines the holy in two ways. First, he categorizes what is holy as a set of values — essentially the morals we believe to be true. Personal nuances, family traditions, community rites and public policies may vary, but all point to what is sacred and right for the people invested in them.

Otto then identifies a second category of holiness that supercedes the first. He speaks of the Holy as the all-powerful, all-knowing God who is the unquestionable source and standard of all that is sacred and the judge of what is profane. How we interpret the Holy and the rituals we use to connect with God is the stuff that determines the celebration or disconnection we experience.

How to go about it? Consider using these holy-days for periods of self-reflection. First, how we invest in relationships is a fair indicator of what we value. How we choose to love and care for ourselves, our significant others, our community, our enemies and this cosmos we share reflects our priorities. How we invest our time and resources — whether our tendency is to be givers or takers, talkers or doers — reveals what is sacred or profane to our identity. Second, consider establishing rituals in your own life that bring about joy and are life-giving.

In our partnership, my wife grew up in a family that isn’t big on gift giving. My side has made bargain-shopping an art. We are trying to teach our kids — and ourselves — that our responsibilities to love one another and serve God go above and beyond staying in our own comfort zone. And whether that means setting aside part of our income to help others, taking a trip together, being not just available but pro-actively present, the investment has been worth the time and effort.

Lastly, play with this thought: What good are the holidays? Well, how deep does your curiosity run? The 15th century monk Martin Luther emphasized that faith does not require information, knowledge and certainty, but a free surrender and a joyful bet on God’s unfelt, untried and unknown goodness.

Be well and savor the Holy.

— Rev. Jeff Larson, Ph.D., is a Lutheran minister and clinical psychologist called by Vashon Lutheran Church to provide counseling services to the community.

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