What’s the Story I’m Telling? (Welcome to the holidays!)

/What’s the Story I’m Telling? (Welcome to the holidays!)

Welcome to the Yoga Church Sunday Sermons.

December 2nd, 2018

I’ve experienced a heavy dose of personal transformation in my life (maybe that’s why I ended up teaching transformation for a living?) And it turns out (why am I surprised?) that this practice of writing sermons for you every week has its own transforming power. Remember the Thanksgiving Sermon a couple weeks ago? The one about gratitude as a quality of being? Well in that sermon I said I didn’t like holidays. But I’m not sure that’s true… Because this past week I’ve been plotting out an entire month of holiday reflections for you and I gotta say, I’m feeling a bit festive! (so bring on the sugar cookies!)

Today we start our holiday series with a sermon about stories. Because that’s what holidays are right? They’re stories we tell together.

And I’ve got some really interesting reflection questions for you at the bottom of this post. So give the sermon a watch and then share your wisdom! I want to hear all about the stories you tell and celebrate this time of year.

And if you feel tempted to share your favorite holiday cookie recipe, well, I won’t try and stop you. Just saying. 😉

What’s the Story I’m Telling? (Welcome to the Holidays!)

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December is a full month. Today is the beginning of Advent, which will lead us to Christmas. Hanukkah begins this evening. The winter solstice is approaching. And, of course, we’ll soon be greeting a New Year. As we move into the fullness of this time I would like to pause and explore the ideas of story, ritual, and tradition. This month is full of them and I’d like to invite us all—you and me—to approach the season with some fresh awareness.

Because let’s be real. This month can be busy and exhausting. And we can easily fall into survival mode. Or is that just me? I don’t know if this happens to you, but I experience a lot of mixed emotions this time of year. I’m excited about certain things—like making wreaths, hanging white twinkly lights, drinking soy nog. But I dread other things—I dread the pressure, the consumerism, and the over scheduling. Plus this month is so hard for so many people and I don’t want anyone to feel like they have to fake happiness or merriment. It’s a complicated time and I’d like to invite our community to approach it with intention.

For the next four weeks I’ll bring you sermons themed around four of the important events this month: Advent, Winter Solstice, Christmas, and New Year. I’ll dig into each of them more deeply, but today I’d like to draw our attention to the fact that each of these events is a story—a story that tells us something about who we are as a people.

We human beings are seekers. The impulse to seek is written in the code of our DNA. We search. We strive. We follow our curiosity. We wonder: Why am I alive? And at a certain point in our search, we realize that we’re meaning making creatures. In order to understand ourselves, in order to understand our existence and our world, we have to make something. We have to create, tell, and remember stories. This is what holidays are—a collective remembering of our stories.

The teachings of yoga offer us the concept of Svadhyaya, a sansrkit word most often translated as self-study. But it’s not simply a generic form of self-study—technically it’s studying yourself through the scriptures of your people. The teaching of Svadhyaya comes from a time before writing, and traditionally referred to the memorization and recitation of mantras, stories, and songs, which provided a way to build identity among families and communities. You knew who you were through the stories and songs you’d been taught. I think it’s an important concept to consider this month as we all participate in some of our most commonly practiced collective stories.

I’m bringing the practice of Svadhyaya into a sermon about holiday tradition in order to get you to ask yourself: “Who am I because of the stories my family and culture chooses to tell and remember?” In other words, “Who are you based on the holidays you celebrate?” Holidays can be just another habit. Or they can be a powerful tool for self awareness and discovery. Why do you celebrate the holidays you do? Who taught you to celebrate them? What do they mean to you? And do the traditions you enact around them speak to your highest values?

Have you ever taken the time to identify the stories you were given? The stories your family gave you? Your culture gave you? Your religion and school gave you? What stories have been laid in your lap and have shaped who you are? What are the stories behind the holidays you celebrate? And how do you enact them?

This question of enacting our stories brings us to the practice of ritual—the practice of embodying the stories that shape and inform us. Some of you were taught ritual through the religious traditions of your family: For example, if you grew up Christian, you witnessed bread and wine becoming body and blood, if you grew up Jewish you witnessed bitter herbs becoming the harshness of slavery, if you grew up Muslim you witnessed prayer becoming the act of plunging into cleansing water 5 times a day. But, if like me, you didn’t grow up religious, formal rituals like these may be something you didn’t witness or experience until adulthood, if ever.

But we’ve all experienced ritual of some kind. I mean the act of making a wish and blowing out candles after being sung to is an example of an annual ritual many of us have participated in. And on a more daily basis, there’s the ritual act of sitting down around a table, eating a meal, and sharing the experiences of the day with people you love.

Ritual is the systematic coming together of a people around something. Around a birthday, a meal, a story, a holiday. One of the most important aspects of ritual is bringing consciousness into action. The act of ritual takes something ordinary—bread, wine, bitter herbs, a bowing body—and transforms it into something sacred. Rituals aren’t something you just mechanically move through. Or at least they’re not supposed to be. But it happens right? I mean how often do we hear—or say—“I’ve just got to get through the holidays.” For many of us the ritual of remembering and enacting meaningful stories has been overshadowed by stress.

So I’d like to interrupt our habits of simply surviving the holidays or just going through the motions of the holidays and call us into the practice of svadhyaya. I invite you to use the holidays you celebrate as a mirror that leads to deeper self-understanding. I invite you to contemplate the story behind the holidays you celebrate, which of course will be multi-layered. What’s the traditional story and history of the holiday? And what’s the story of the holiday in your family? Do these two stories have anything to do with each other? What rituals do you currently enact to mark the holiday? Be honest with yourself here. What are the traditions you keep? And how do they speak to your highest values?

As you embark on the many traditions of this month I invite you to pause and ask yourself: “How does the story of this holiday—and the rituals I enact to mark it (whatever they are)—shape who I am as a person?”

I’ll be right here with you. Asking myself the same question. And over the coming weeks we’ll explore some of these collective stories in more depth.

Until then, I wish you peace.


REFLECTION QUESTIONS

This sermon is chock full of reflection questions!

  • Who am I because of the stories my family and culture chooses to tell and remember?
  • Who am I based on the holidays I celebrate?
  • Why do I celebrate the holidays I do?
  • Who taught me to celebrate them?
  • What do they mean to me?
  • Do the traditions I enact around them speak to my highest values?
  • Have I ever taken the time to identify the stories I was given? The stories my family gave me? My culture gave me? My religion and school gave me? What stories have been laid in my lap and have shaped who I am?
    • Did they nurture me? Did they force me into repression—into a denial of self? What stories have I thrown away? What stories do I continue to carry? And to tell?
  • How does the story of this holiday (fill in the blank)—and the rituals I enact to mark it (whatever they are)—shape who I am as a person?

LET’S TALK!

We all benefit from the wisdom of spiritual community. And community means more than one voice, so please add yours to the conversation.

8 Comments

  1. Tori December 3, 2018 at 3:51 pm - Reply

    I’m really looking forward to this series of sermons. Over the years, Christmas with my family has become more of a ritual in gift buying than anything else. There was a time when Christmas had a deeply religious meaning for us, but we no longer align with those stories, and I wish that our holidays reflected something deeper than mere habit. These reflection questions will be helpful as I dive deeper into this topic and try to rekindle the spark of meaningful stories, rituals, and traditions in my family. Thank you. I’ll be thinking about this all month!

    • Summer
      Summer December 6, 2018 at 12:03 pm - Reply

      I’m so glad you’re looking forward to the series Tori! I look forward to hearing your reflections as we progress through the month.

  2. Julia December 5, 2018 at 11:27 am - Reply

    Hi Summer, wish you were here so I could share my holiday treats with you! This year my gypsy self is making only three: SYSEPS, sugar cookies, and black-eyed Susans.

    I made SYSEPS every year when I was at ESR, so you may have had them. SYSEPS is a name I came up with that stands for Super Yummy, Super Easy Party Snacks. Basically you just bake a small knotted pretzel with an unwrapped Rolo candy on top of it for 10 minutes at 300. When you take them out of the oven, the candy is hot, but not melted. Smash an intact half pecan into the candy, and voila!

    The sugar cookies are just a standard recipe, but the key here is that I hate decorating cookies, so this is what I do: I make two dozen cookies and cut them all in the shape of Christmas trees. I make green frosting, which is just a mixture of one cup confectioners sugar to one tablespoon of milk and green coloring. It will be too thick, so add milk one teaspoon at a time until you reach desired consistency. Be cautious! Your frosting will get too thin really fast. Also, you may already know this, but I’ll tell you anyhow. Confectioners (powdered) sugar is super messy. It gets all over everything. I always measure it over the sink if I can.

    OK. When the frosting is desired consistency, set up a cooling rack over a cookie sheet or tin foil or something else to catch drips.

    Now, here is the decorating. Dip each cookie in the green frosting to coat it and put it on the cooling rack to drip. After you have dipped all the cookies, add some blue food coloring to your frosting. Use a watercolor paintbrush to smear a few strokes of dark blue green on the trees to create shadows (I learned this technique from an artist friend of mine; she called it “gesso”). If you’re feeling super-festive, put some cinnamon candies at the end of the branches. You can use this technique for white snowflakes with light blue shadows or red stars with purple shadows.

    Black-eyed Susans are basically cheesy pie dough with some cayenne in it, wrapped around a date. When they come out of the oven, roll in sugar. Here’s the recipe:

    Make dough of 1 cup butter, 1 cup grated cheddar cheese, 2 cups flour, cayenne to taste, salt to taste. Don’t double, this dough is hard to mix. Roll out and cut circles with biscuit cutter. Wrap each pastry circle around a half of a pitted date (you will need about 1lb. of dates. Bake at 250 for 30 min. While hot, roll in sugar.

    Black-eyed Susans are what I’m giving away this year. They are so great and travel well!

    • Summer
      Summer December 6, 2018 at 12:04 pm - Reply

      Yay for cookie recipes!! I should have known you’d send some!!! <3 Thank you, thank you!

  3. Marci Becker December 7, 2018 at 6:40 am - Reply

    The question about how these rituals speak to my highest values really hits home and helps clarify for my why some holidays feel like such a battle. The battle within me…..and then the battle I take to my family as I’m apparently trying to realign the traditions and rituals so that they are more in line with my values. It’s a challenge to find/create/establish traditions and rituals that will serve and feed a wide variety of people in my family….and perhaps a wide range of highest values. We may ultimately have such a different set of values that it’s impossible….and that could be why the struggle continues.

    I’ve long known that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday…but not sure I ever put it into these words or connected it clearly with this concept. It’s focus is on the tradition of sharing a meal around a table with family and friends and then playing games and enjoying each other’s company. All without the added/extra pressures that accompany the rituals we participate in with the Christmas holiday (gifts….giving/receiving). No expectations or requirements other than a meal and a good time together.There has never been pressure on people to attend when they didn’t want to or had other plans. It aligns perfectly with some of my highest values surrounding nurturing each other in community.

    This Christmas, the Millenials in the family are pushing us to redefine our holiday in a big way….we are attempting a ‘no gift’ Christmas and instead, opting to share extended time together in a cabin, away from it all. Some are excited about it….some are not. Going into it with the concept of ‘values’ will perhaps help me give language to what some are feeling….and bridge the connection between the differing viewpoints in a meaningful way so that we can, at least, have a better understanding of each other’s motivations (conscious or subconscious).

    Thank you, Love!!!! and I look forward to this series.

    • Summer
      Summer December 13, 2018 at 11:45 am - Reply

      “This Christmas, the Millenials in the family are pushing us to redefine our holiday in a big way….we are attempting a ‘no gift’ Christmas and instead, opting to share extended time together in a cabin, away from it all.”

      I love this idea!! And I hope it goes well… Keep me posted!

  4. Leanne December 9, 2018 at 9:19 am - Reply

    Over the last two years or so, I’ve been looking for ways to reshape the rituals I engage in around the holiday season. Specifically, I have been looking for ways to incorporate more nature-based and/or ancestral practices. Last year I began a candlelight meditation practice on the winter solstice which I plan to continue, but have been looking for other things to add in that also fit my life at this time
    .
    My background is Christian, but that is a religion I only loosely practice at this point although it is an influence. The holiday that I and my family celebrate is Christmas, but the celebration is primarily secular at this point despite normally attending church together on Christmas Eve. What I have always found most powerful about attending church on Christmas Eve was the candlelight service that I would usually attend and the associated symbolism of light (symbolizing hope) in the darkness. I think that it is being so close to the winter solstice that at least partly made that symbolism seem so powerful to me.

    • Summer
      Summer December 13, 2018 at 11:49 am - Reply

      Thank you for sharing these thoughts with us Leanne. The Winter Solstice has become such an important event for me and has helped me reframe my ideas of Christmas. It sounds like we’re in a similar spot.

      Really, all the season changes have become important for me. I think they provide such a lovely way to walk through the year with intention. I look forward to journeying through the seasons with you!

      For now, Happy Winter!

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