Holiday Tension

The holidays are a time for family togetherness and joy.  Few families enjoy that ideal, however, without some effort.  Those who struggle with strained relationships may feel particular sadness, grief or disappointment in the state of their relationships.  The holidays are a time many ask themselves:  Is there more I could or should do to heal past hurts or to ease family stress?

Families are a peculiar phenomenon.  Earlier this week a circumspect friend was sharing her feelings about attending church across different life stages, and we got into a discussion about what it means to be “spiritual but not religious.”  To my mind, there is a common thread weaving through the fabric of both family and faith community.  The common thread is people do feel a yearning to connect, but past experiences can present obstacles, and sometimes people give up and look for connections elsewhere.

The analogy I use is a professionally trained a musician who plays the piccolo or viola or kettle drums—not a solo instrument.  He devotes thousands of hours of disciplined practice to master the instrument, and to what end?  The goal is not to perform alone.  The goal is to perform as a body, as an orchestra.  When a hundred individuals who are passionate about their art gather and share that passion together, something magical happens.  Think about it: how many times in the past week have you been among a hundred highly skilled individuals completely absorbed in something they feel passionately about?  It is an extraordinary phenomenon.  What happens when the musician feels this adagio is too crisp or that movement gets a little repetitive or one arrangement isn’t as good as another?  Does he go looking for an orchestra elsewhere?  Does the musician play because he likes every little detail of every program?  No, he plays to experience the magic of it.  He rises above any disagreement of this or that detail to experience the thrill of the symphonic phenomenon.

No doubt, there is much to criticize in any religion, institution or family.  They are all of human making, after all.  We have a few players in my family who are chronically out of tune.  But like musicians, we don’t have to have the same opinions, personality or style to appreciate the mystery of family.  We don’t have to approve of every church policy or like every piece of liturgy to appreciate the mystery of corporate worship.  Expecting everyone in a congregation or a family to share the same preferences or ideas is like expecting every musician in the symphony to play the same instrument.  It is precisely because of our differences and the tensions between us that coming together is such a powerful spiritual phenomenon.

I want to leave with you the thought that tension is vital because it connects us.  Tension is often what holds things together, or at least what makes things interesting.  When you fly a kite, it’s the tension on the string that keeps it aloft.  Have you heard the expression “pushing a rope?”  No tension indicates no useful connection.  As you wade into Advent as a season of waiting, introspection and hope, be attuned to the tension.  Changing circumstances, such as the youngest child leaving home, may cause some tensions to dissipate but create opportunities for empty nesters to draw each other into new tensions.  As you exist in the tension, feel where connections are tense and where they are loose.

Join the conversation.  Where are tensions robust and where are connections loose in your relationship with God?

Copyright 2011 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved.  Visit www.AcrossTraditions.com.

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