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  • Still: The Gift of Jolabokaflod



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    During the season of Advent, those weeks leading up until Christmas, this gentle little column will be exploring the theme of stillness. Stopping, resting, listening, and waiting are not often found in the days and weeks leading up until Christmas. While carols play and snow falls, many in our community are faced with anything but stillness. Job loss, family stresses, and unexpected hardships can drop into the stillness of our lives like a brick splashing into a glassy pond. Peace can be hard to find.

Stillness, for some, can be as rare as a magical, mythical creature. We rush from meeting and appointment to the grocery store lineup and back again. With buzzing phones, crying children, and endless demands, where can anyone find stillness anymore?

Our church, this season, is exploring the theme of stillness. We’re learning that stillness is something that we crave, but often does not come without practice, help, and even a bit of preparation. Even then, stillness might be more of a gift than something we can buy or procure. Stillness is a posture of the heart that can allow us to stop and wait even in the midst of a noisy and demanding world. Stillness might also be something we actively create, an anti-activity experiment couched in intentionality. Stillness is worth finding.

Many who are practiced in stillness have come to learn the art of patient waiting through the gift of words. It is mostly out of necessity in a loud and busy home that I have to find stillness. For me, words have saved me. I have been surprised, for example, that poets have given me some of the most helpful language to calm my thoughts and bring me peace. Short stories, reflective words of wisdom, and beautiful prose about faith and life have captured my imagination and led me into times of welcome stillness. 

In Iceland, where winter nights are cold and dark, there is a cultural practice that has become a gift between neighbours. Jolabokaflod, or the Christmas Book Flood, is a practice that dates back to WW2 when currency was scarce. Instead of fancy gifts, people would give each other books at Christmas time. What has grown out of this tradition has been a remarkable embrace of literacy and literary culture. Icelanders now read more books than any other nation and the Christmas Book Flood is a way that locals support authors and writers. 

Today neighbours in Iceland will give books and receive books, then they will curl up with some chocolate and wait for Christmas day. It is a picture of kindness between people, of generosity of spirit, of comforting words, and most welcome of all, of stillness. 

May you discover traditions and practices that bring stillness into your home. May you find ways to give the gift of stillness to your neighbours this Christmas.

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