It’s undeniable. Hygge (pronounced hue-gah) is a huge hit at Saint Brendan. Over the last five weeks, we have been talking and writing about this beautiful Danish word that has become all the rage around the world, and I keep hearing echoes of how well-accepted it has become among us. People mention it on the way in or out of church, write about it in emails, and send pictures as examples.
The word hygge roughly translates to comfort, coziness, and warmth. If you’ve been a little lax about church attendance or reading the bulletin, here’s what hygge is. Picture this: a cold, dark, and snowy night outside in the bleak mid-winter; you’re warm and dry inside, with close friends gathered in front of a roaring fire under snuggly blankets, sipping hot spiced wine (Glögg), wearing thick winter socks, while small candles light the cozy little living space. That’s hygge.
The Christmas season evokes images of comfort, warmth, and togetherness, and God comforts his people during this darkest time of the year with the knowledge that the eternal Word, the Son of God, “became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14), which brings hope to the human spirit for a better world. That’s spiritual hygge, which we can only recognize when we slow down, prepare our homes and hearts and make space for prayer, loosen the control over our lives a bit and surrender it to God, and try to offer spiritual comfort to other people by making room for them.
The Church around the world today celebrates the feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. We hold them up each year as the model of an ideal family: Joseph protected his family; Mary committed her whole life to her Son from manger to cross; and Jesus respected and obeyed his parents.
As with any model, however, the exemplar can leave the rest of us feeling a little “less than.” Many of us, including myself, come from dysfunctional or so-called “broken” families. Many kids who come for the sacrament of reconciliation confess family quarrels, fighting with siblings, and disrespecting their parents. I have seen families ripped apart because adult children fight over an inheritance, couples are unfaithful to one another, rank marital strife infects the home, or a spouse suffers from mental illness or a substance abuse problem. Indeed, comfort within our own families can sometimes be the hardest form of hygge to find.
I offer the same advice I give to children in reconciliation. Remember that God gave you your family, for better or worse, and your role in the family is ordained by God. It is not accidental. Live up to it. As Saint Paul says, “bear with one another.” Forgive injuries, overlook insults, and bind up wounds. Don’t try to change people in your family, but appreciate them for the unique person that they have become. Be grateful for the family you have because it’s the only one you will ever have, and when you can’t be with your family because of serious abuse or geography, find a surrogate one and “love the one[s] you’re with.”
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.
Whenever there is an open question or confusion on some point, my brother always claps his hands and says, “Well, let’s ask the Great Google,” as if the popular search engine were some great wizard pulling levers behind a curtain. Truth be told, Google does seem to know everything, including how to create an inviting and innovative work environment.
Last week, I visited the tech company’s expansive campus, at the invitation of a friend and parishioner who works there. Throughout the tour, I goggled in awe at the visionary quality of the Google campus. Spread over several square miles in picturesque Mountain View, California, employees could call for chauffeured rides from one building to the next. Brightly-colored yellow bikes with baskets and vintage bells on the handlebars were strewn throughout the property, so that workers and guests alike could pedal from one place to another, alighting from the two-wheelers and leaving them wherever they wanted.
The facilities included 35 restaurants with every kind of free food and drink imaginable, coffee bars with free lattes and snacks, hammocks and lazy outdoor furniture, tennis courts, a gym, an infinity pool, and much more. Work spaces were collegial and connective with cheerful décor. Socially acceptable messages about inclusivity and equality were posted throughout the winding corridors. Employees were not expected to work particular hours but could roam the campus at will and seemed to do whatever they wanted.
At first blush, the Google campus appeared to be a kind of utopia. Yet, there was a shadow side, in my opinion. People wandered alone for the most part, not speaking to others. Social graces and etiquette among the inhabitants seemed to be lacking on most occasions. For all its idealism and forward thinking, there was sort of a soulless quality to it all. Indeed, it seems that whenever man tries to build paradise on his own, a dystopia inevitably emerges instead.
The prophet Isaiah announces the presence and power of God in the world when he says in the first reading that the “Spirit of the Lord” is upon him “to bring glad tidings to the poor.” What Isaiah promises is a miraculous transformation of society on the basis of justice. He understands his mission to be the creation of a perfectly just society. Isaiah believes that God will “comfort all who mourn,” once social conflict, hierarchy, class status, and disparities between the rich and the poor have been eliminated forever.
Yet, Isaiah’s dream was too small. The Christian belief is that God’s Spirit indeed has been poured out, but upon Jesus to accomplish nothing less than the salvation of humankind and the entire world. In Christ, Isaiah’s utopian vision was fulfilled in a way that far exceeded his deepest hopes and expectations. Importantly, it also was the result of God’s work, not our own desire to build a perfect society.
Hygge is the Nordic concept of coziness and comfort that we’ve talking about for a few weeks. May the Great God bring you comfort this holiday season in the reassuring realization that it is through the Lord’s grace and not our own hands that we have been redeemed.
When I was a seminarian, I spent nearly a year at Saint Gabriel Church in the Sunset, learning from a seasoned priest how to serve the people of God. The pastor, Father Tom Hamilton, often put me to shame, although he did so unintentionally. On my first day, I arrived in the sacristy to serve at Mass about five minutes before it began. Father Tom was already there. All the candles had been lit, the Missal and the vessels arranged, the doors opened, and the lights and sound system turned on.
The next day, I arrived ten minutes before Mass, with the same result. In a vain attempt to beat Father Tom to the sacristy, each day I would try to arrive five minutes earlier than the preceding morning, but to no avail. He was always there, fully vested, sitting calmly on a chair in the sacristy, praying, when I burst through the doors flustered and discombobulated. In the nine months that I spent there, I never got to the sacristy first.
I asked Father Tom why he always arrived so early to Mass. He told me that it brought him comfort to be there well ahead of time and, as he put it, “to putter around.” It was a form of prayer for him and a way to center himself before Mass. Indeed, there’s a kind of quiet joy to what I now call “religious puttering.” Perhaps that’s at the heart of what the Saint Brendan Church Altar Guild does. As a 30-year parishioner and leader of the organization, Pura Lippi, put it, “I just love to be at the altar. I meditate while I work, and it gives me consolation.”
The first reading this weekend promises that God’s people will be comforted when they prepare the way of the Lord. The gospel reading similarly reminds us that, particularly during Advent, we should prepare for the Lord by repenting for our sins and returning to him. The stillness of the Advent season should encourage us to slow down and prepare ourselves in every way, including a bit of religious puttering in our own homes.
Last week at Mass, I spoke about a Danish word that has come into vogue recently. It’s called hygge (pronounced hue-guh), which roughly translates to coziness, comfort, or snugness. As one description put it, hygge is a sense of “togetherness and inner warmth, a world lit by candles and snuggled under blankets” (www.qz.com, “Winter Joy”). This Scandinavian “art of creating intimacy” that has led to the highest recorded levels of happiness in the world involves a certain kind of conscious awareness, a slowness, and the ability to recognize and enjoy the present with others.
Advent is the perfect time to hygge your home. Instead of rushing around in a dither to make sure that we’ve put up the tree, assembled the crèche, hung the mistletoe, strung the lights outside, and baked the gingerbread house, this year perhaps consider these tasks to be an act of prayer. Go slow. Make time for it. Dawdle a bit. Drag it out and see how your attitude towards Christmas changes when your home becomes hyggelig through religious puttering.
The last eight weeks have been no picnic. We’ve listened to a number of uncomfortable lessons and stories told by Jesus in the gospel readings and have heard unsettling warnings about the consequences for not:
· Producing good fruit;
· Being prepared;
· Repaying to God what belongs to him;
· Loving authentically;
· Living with integrity;
· Performing good works;
· Investing our talents in the kingdom of God; or
· Caring for those who suffer.
Through not an inconsiderable amount of discomfort and distress in reading these passages, we’ve been pressed by Jesus to grow deeper in following him by moving from selfish consumerism to selfless discipleship. We’ve been urged to take small steps in the right direction by serving in ministry, tithing and giving, engaging in small groups, practicing prayer, and sharing our faith. The consistent message during this series has been that we need to “pray as we live and live as we pray.”
In this Advent season, the tables now seem to turn. We encounter readings that are less uncomfortable and that actually bring us hope and comfort in our watchful waiting for the Lord to come into our world. The first reading from the prophet Isaiah, for instance, begs for God to “rend the heavens and come down” (63:19). It is hopeful because the prophet believes with all his heart that God will come down and clean up the mess made by sinful humanity.
Because God has been faithful, loving, and good to Israel in the past, Isaiah is fully confident that the Lord will show compassion and forgive. As the psalm today says, God will “come to save us” and take care of his people. Even the gospel reading, with its warning to “be watchful” and “alert,” ultimately is comforting because it urges us to slow down, see more clearly, and trust in the Lord to come.
As a matter of fact, Advent is a time to slow down and become fully awake. Through all the hype of the Christmas shopping season, there is one millennial trend from which Catholics can learn. It’s called hygge (pronounced hue-guh). The word is Danish in origin and roughly translates to coziness, comfort, or reassurance. As one description puts it, hygge is a sense of “togetherness and inner warmth, a world lit by candles and snuggled under blankets” (www.qz.com, “Winter Joy”). This Scandinavian “art of creating intimacy” that has led to the highest recorded levels of happiness in the world involves a certain kind of conscious awareness, a slowness, and the ability to recognize and enjoy the present with others.
What Advent calls for is a certain sort of spiritual hygge. It’s a kind of collective confidence in God’s consolation, and a willingness to light a candle together in order to scatter the darkness, because we are confident that God will comfort his people. Over the next few weeks, we’ll learn the art of spiritual hygge by preparing our homes for Christ, trusting in one greater than ourselves, and creating a warm place for others. From all of us at Saint Brendan Church, we wish you a hygge Advent and Christmas season.
Father Roger Gustafson