“O come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant,” these words from the well-known hymn may not resonate with our experience of Christmas this year. We may be struggling to feel joyful or triumphant. We may be mourning the loss of gathering together in song and celebration.
Embracing loved ones. Sharing meals. Singing carols in our neighbourhoods. Making memories. Worshipping side by side. During this season, many of us will not be able to engage in activities that usually bring us joy and fill the holiday with meaning. Some of us are facing down long days and nights of loneliness.
While there will be other Christmases, this fact does not minimize the losses that need to be grieved this year. And it’s important to acknowledge that the isolation and inability to be with friends and family has an impact on our mental wellbeing.
Here at Sanctuary, we want you to know we see you and are holding space for you in the midst of the difficulties and pain of this season.
In this spirit, our team wanted to offer a small gesture of care and connection. What follows are a few of our favourite ways of attending to our own self-care. Our hope is that you will find an idea, a comforting thought, a practice you can explore for yourself. This is our virtual self-care package for you.
Thank you for being part of our community!
We wish you a meaningful Christmas season in which the light of Christ’s love shines in the midst of any darkness you may be facing, in which you know you are held in the everlasting arms.
Listening to music is one of my favourite self-care practices. Studies have shown that music increases dopamine levels, affects our breathing rate and heart rate, and can even help us identify and process emotions. I particularly love listening to Handel’s Messiah Live from the Sydney Opera House at this time of year, but I would encourage you to find a piece of music that does one or more of the following: 1) reminds you of a positive or meaningful experience in your life; 2) slows your heart rate and helps you relax (look for pieces with 60-80 BPM); 3) encourages you to reflect on the beauty and significance of the incarnation. If you want to learn more about music and self-care, this is a very informative article: Stop. Pause. Play – Using Music for Self-Care.
Every Moment Holy is a book of liturgies for daily life—from drinking coffee to leaving on vacation. Sometimes when I don’t know what to pray, I open this book and find a liturgy to help centre my mind and my heart. I’ve used it with friends while traveling, in moments of grief and loneliness, and in celebrating small and big things. I love how rhythmic and poetic the prayers are, and how specific to regular life they are. They help me integrate my faith into the ordinary in a more intentional and beautiful way.
Baking reminds me of Christ as Creator, gathering humble ingredients to form beauty. Baking carrot cake slows me to the pace of wonder as I pause in awe of the vegetable becoming dessert. This year I’m grateful for connection with dear ones through recipe sharing so we can, in some form, still be at the same table—and now you’re invited, too. Make Jane’s carrot cake.
CREATING MY OWN “JESSE TREE” OF FRIENDS FOR EACH DAY OF ADVENT
Building on the tradition of making a Jesse Tree—a decorated tree made of significant individuals in the story of Jesus—I’ve decided to make my own, but with a difference. Each day of Advent I’m sending a reflection of appreciation to friends old and new, some of whom may have experienced a difficult year, others whom I’ve not been in regular contact with for some time. As restrictions advance into Christmas and I’m away from friends, spending time each day remembering the gifts each person brings has been a huge encouragement. As I recall these memories, gifts have come back to me too.
WALKING IN CREATION WHILE LISTENING TO HYMNS
One of my favourite things to do is to walk through a forest while listening to hymns. The combination of listening to ancient songs and treading the paths of a forest that was here before me—and will still be here when I am gone—grounds me and places me. It fills my heart with gratitude as I remember what an immense privilege it is to be breathing this air and feeling these embodied sensations in this moment. It is on these walks that I process a lot of my emotions: sometimes I walk with a smile and other times with tears. The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge is a regular soundtrack for me to listen to as I explore the trails of the Pacific Spirit Forest in Vancouver, BC.
LEARNING TO READ (AND SING) SCRIPTURE IN HEBREW
One of the Five Ways to Wellbeing we shared during our Mental Health Awareness Month campaign in October was LEARN. Picking up a new skill boosts our self-esteem and sense of purpose. This fall, I took on the challenge of studying biblical Hebrew. While it was intimidating at the start, I’ve come to enjoy reading (albeit very haltingly) some Old Testament verses and passages in Hebrew.
I love reading the Psalms because they give voice to such a wide range of human emotions, like lament, despair, and also hope. Psalm 23 has been a source of deep peace and comfort, especially when set to this beautiful melody by Tel Aviv-based Messianic Israeli band Miqedem. And yes, I’ve been listening to this song nonstop!
LISTENING WHILE BIKING
Going on bike rides is one of my favorite things to do. I enjoy riding along the shore in Vancouver, where the mountains meet the sea. As I contemplate the vastness and beauty of creation, I am reminded of and give thanks for all the goodness of its Creator. When I can’t go on bike rides, I enjoy walking or jogging, which allows me to go at a slower pace and listen to my favorite songs or a podcast. Lately, I have been listening to a lot of Marcos Almeida, a Brazilian musician whose songs are about the spirituality of the ordinary. (Even if you can’t understand the lyrics, the musicality itself makes listening worthwhile.) I also have been listening to the Darrell Johnson Podcast, which gathers several of his thoughtful messages.
I can’t stop listening to this rendition of Psalm 126. The drum is like a steady heartbeat, and the words, “all those who sow weeping, will go out with songs of joy,” offer a description of how pain and joy are often intertwined in our hearts and lives. I’m reminded I can’t selectively numb my emotions—that numbing pain means numbing positive feelings, as well. This Christmas will be challenging, and I will be taking time to be present with my emotions and to acknowledge them before God. If you’re looking for a practice to help you with this, consider the Examen.
JOURNALING PROMPTS FOR MENTAL HEALTH
A journal is a wonderful gift to give or receive at Christmas. There are lots of unique options—everything from journals with whimsical sketches and inspirational quotes to journals with recycled paper and engraved leather covers—so have some fun exploring your local shops. If you aren’t sure where or how to begin writing, take a look at some of the prompts suggested in this article: Journaling to Better Mental Health. (It also offers a good refresher on the benefits of journaling, which include improved sleep, reduced stress, increased coping skills, and the chance to view life from a new perspective.) Sanctuary is based in Vancouver, BC—and I love this local artist’s eco-friendly, travel-sized journals: Dot Grid Notebook.
AT-HOME DIY SPA RITUAL
The great thing about a spa day at home? It can happen anytime during the week and at any hour of the day—no booking required. I recommend practicing this form of self-care on your Sabbath as an embodied way to remember that we are created and loved by God. Some ideas for a spa ritual include (in no particular order): lighting a scented candle; drawing a warm bath; adding bath salts to the water; playing music; reflecting silently on the day’s events; and checking in with yourself emotionally, mentally, and physically. After a relaxing soak, you may want to take a quick shower and scrub, and apply a body oil to give the tired, sore parts of your body a good massage.
*These recommendations are purely team favourites. Sanctuary receives no compensation for any resources recommended in this post.