I have a friend. He’s one of my closest friends. Let’s call him “Jim.” As a parishioner, Jim would not do anything I asked him to do. When invited to join the parish council, the answer was a flat out “no.” Over the years, he has politely declined a number of similarly generous offers to get involved in organized church ministries, including my insistent suggestion that he become a deacon.
Jim, however, is one of the most gentle and compassionate people I have ever known. When an elderly widower became terminally ill, Jim was at his home most afternoons with refreshments and an encouraging smile. When he needed a ride to the doctor’s office, Jim was always ready to go. When one of the men in his small group was having a tough time, Jim was proactive, lending a non-judgmental and empathetic ear. Like Saint Nicholas, Jim frequently shows up out of nowhere at the doorstep of overworked priests and rectory staff with Peet’s coffee and freshly-baked scones, a pint of ice cream, or a hot pie from Amici’s pizzeria.
Spontaneous and impulsive in the best sense of the word, Jim is remarkably sensitive to the hardships experienced by others. He arrives with unexpected gifts to spend time with people who need a little extra help getting through difficult circumstances. Jim is always on the watch, seeking to anticipate the needs of others and consistently responds with acts of compassion and love.
In our Advent message series, called God Comforts His People, we have been reflecting on the Danish word hygge (pronounced hoo-guh), which roughly translates to coziness. Hygge is the Scandinavian “art of creating intimacy” that offers a comforting sense of togetherness and warmth during the cold and dark winter months.
Over the last few weeks, we’ve been hearing comforting messages in the Sunday readings about the fulfillment of God’s promise of salvation, kind of like spiritual hygge from the Lord. We have been discussing how to bring spiritual comfort to ourselves at this time of year by slowing down, preparing our homes for the coming of the Messiah, and trying to find a little peace.
Obviously, hygge, spiritual or otherwise, cannot be kept to ourselves. To attempt to do so would violate the very spirit of the word itself. Indeed, hygge is meant to be shared. During this warm holiday season, we should strive to anticipate the needs of the people around us and look for little ways to bring spiritual comfort to each other. At Saint Brendan, we already do this in many structured ways: through our Giving Tree and by visiting the homebound and juveniles in lockup, comforting those who have lost loved ones, and knitting items for people in need, to name just a few.
But perhaps, like my friend Jim, we also can find ways to bring spiritual comfort to others in more unplanned ways, like surprising someone with a call or letter, paying a compliment to someone out of the blue, inviting someone lonely to church, speaking kind words to those needing encouragement, or just joining in our cozy hospitality towards one another on Sundays. Let’s hygge each other this holiday season.
Father Roger Gustafson