Neuroscience has been helping us understand more fully how our brains work in fascinating and sometimes troubling ways. We process the information that coming to us from our environments in patterned ways and this means that we pay attention to the things that confirm our already existing thoughts and feelings and tend to ignore things that differ from our current perceptions. So this Christmas, if you expect to be hurried, frazzled and under-appreciated, you’re likely to find that’s true. If you expect your family and friends to overlook you, you’re likely to find evidence that they do. This pattern happens even with our expectations of God. If you expect God to neglect you, you set yourself up for that sadness, too.
What might help us discover more about reality rather than following our perceptions around throughout the season? Try telling yourself a new story this year. See if you can focus your attention each day on something new that is happening. Maybe the new thing could be as simple as your practice of pausing for a few moments each day to notice something new/different. This is a risky practice. It involves inviting your brain to refocus on what it doesn’t know yet. Just like Mary had to refocus her attention on having a Child when she “knew” that was not possible according to everything she knew before. Try pondering (thinking slowly and intentionally) about this story of birth in the midst of risky and new circumstances. Ponder this every day for a few minutes for a week and see if your perceptions and expectations change, even just a bit. Take the risk.
Madeleine L’Engle left us a poem to help with this pondering practice. The Risk of Birth by Madeleine L’Engle (1973):
This is no time for a child to be born,
With the earth betrayed by war & hate
And a comet slashing the sky to warn
That time runs out & the sun burns late.
That was no time for a child to be born,
In a land in the crushing grip of Rome;
Honour & truth were trampled by scorn-
Yet here did the Saviour make his home.
When is the time for love to be born?
The inn is full on the planet earth,
And by a comet the sky is torn-
Yet Love still takes the risk of birth.