Heilige Nacht by Albrecht Altdorfer

A time to ponder

Rev. Margaret Marcuson

December 11, 2019

…Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. Luke 2:19

The word ponder is not an everyday word. Here’s what the dictionary says about it: “to weigh in the mind…to think about…to think or consider especially quietly, soberly, and deeply.”

Artist Austin Kleon says, “Slow down and draw things out. It’s impossible to pay proper attention to your life if you are hurtling along at lightning speed.” He tells the story of art critic Peter Clothier, who took up the practice of meditation and realized how little he actually paid attention to art. Clothier started “One Hour/One Painting” sessions in galleries and museums, inviting people to look at a single art work for one hour. (Austin Kleon, “Keep Going: 10 Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times and Bad,” Workman Publishing, 2019, p. 106-107).

How can we slow ourselves down and draw things out enough to reflect on the meaning of Christmas, when the season seems to be even more sped up than usual?

How can we slow ourselves down and draw things out enough to reflect on the meaning of Christmas, when the season seems to be even more sped up than usual?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor and theologian, had plenty of time to ponder when he was imprisoned by the Nazis during World War II. He wrote to his parents from prison in Advent, 1943: “The Altdorfer Nativity which portrays the Holy Family at the manger amidst the ruins of a dilapidated house…is especially on my mind these days. Perhaps Altdorfer meant to tell us, ‘Christmas can, and should, be celebrated in this way too.’ In any event, that’s what he does tell us.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “The Mystery of Holy Night,” ed. Manfred Weber, New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1997, p. 2)

I suspect spending an hour—or even a full minute—looking at the Altdorfer Nativity and pondering its meaning would shift our relationship with the celebration of Christmas.

Here are some ideas about pondering through this season. Take these as suggestions, and see what draws you—you don’t need more obligations this month!

Heilige Nacht by Albrecht Altdorfer

What to ponder:

Ponder the news. Don’t just react, but reflect. Choose particular times to take in news, then prayerfully reflect on what you read. This season, give particular attention to news items about refugees and the homeless as you reflect on Jesus’ birth.

Ponder how you approach the Christmas season. Are you making choices or simply getting caught up in the craziness? One of the paradoxes of this time of year is that it gives us less time to ponder.

Ponder what you want—in your life, in your work, in your relationships.

Ponder the words of the Magnificat, Mary’s words when the angel came to her:

He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
    and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and sent the rich away empty. (Luke 1:51-53)

Ponder these further words of Bonhoeffer to his parents from prison: “From the Christian point of view, spending Christmas in a prison doesn’t pose any special problem. Most likely, a more meaningful and authentic Christmas is celebrated here by many people than in places where only the name of the feast remains…God turns toward the places from which humans tend to turn away. Christ was born in a stable because there was no room for him at the inn: a prisoner can understand all this better than other people.” (“The Mystery of Holy Night,” p. 3)

Ponder what God may be calling you to in the face of the world’s deep needs.

When to ponder:

Ponder while walking. Movement helps your brain work better. Even if you can walk around the block (weather permitting…), or go up and down stairs, getting in motion will help you ponder.

Ponder while writing. Handwriting also helps your brain work better. Jot a few thoughts on paper. You don’t have to spend half an hour at it—even a minute or two can generate surprising ponderings.

Ponder while waiting. Next time you are stuck in traffic or in the line at the grocery store, instead of fuming, reflect. Or pray for the person in front of you or behind you.

Ponder while driving—it’s a right brain activity, so that part of your brain is fully engaged. New ideas may come to you.

Ponder while drawing. Austin Kleon suggests drawing as a way of paying attention, whether you can draw well or not. (“Keep Going,” p. 108) I’m going to take the Altdorfer Nativity and draw at least some of it, even though I’m not an artist.

What are you pondering this Advent?

The Rev. Margaret Marcuson helps ministers do their work without wearing out or burning out, through ministry coaching, presentations and online resources.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.

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