Christmas at Luther 2021: A Reflection on Reentering Life with Awareness and Eagerness

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For as long as I can remember, I have thrived on being busy. As a kid, I filled my days with playing outside, piano lessons, YMCA soccer, church activities, band and choir, and working hard at school. In high school, it was marching band, theatre, choir, the school newspaper, and the math club. When I began my teaching career, my days began with teaching voice lessons and rehearsals at 7 a.m. and finished with show choir or the musical at 10 p.m. (or later). Even now as I teach at the college level, I fill my weekends with guest conducting appearances, school clinics, and judging opportunities. My sense of purpose has always been validated through my calendar being full.

When March 2020 suddenly slammed on the brakes for all of us, my calendar began emptying.  Not all at once, but a slow and painful trickle. At first, festivals held on for hope that the pandemic would only last a few weeks. Then the summer camps and symposiums made the painful decision to suspend programming. Finally as the fall rolled around, organizations were cancelling events for the entire academic year knowing that COVID wasn’t going away any time soon.

We all mourned a little during the holidays last extended family and friends sharing a meal, no juletide parties, no opportunity to return to campus for Christmas at Luther. At our home, we found ourselves baking and cooking, binging Netflix, playing with our new cats, and attempting not to drive one another batty.

Fast forward a year, and life is starting to feel more and more “normal.” We are preparing for Christmas at Luther, Nordic Choir is looking forward to a spring tour, and yes, the extra gigs that once filled my calendar are starting to return. Oddly though, I reflected recently that when I think back to last year during the holidays I am transported to a time that was stress free. We baked and cooked, we binged Netflix, we played with the cats, and yes, we attempted not to drive one another batty.  

This year’s Christmas at Luther theme comes from a hymn by distinguished Luther alumnus Marty Haugen ‘73. “Awake and Greet the New Morn” was, for the artistic team, not only a celebration and anticipation of the birth of Christ, but also a hope to exit our eighteen-month pandemic slumber and begin to welcome a return to a familiarity of life. The active strength in words such as “awake” and “greet” are very different from the everyday words of  “wake up'' and “welcome.” It signals an eagerness and an intentionality that has been missing for so long. The “new morn” for me signals the opportunity to reenter life with an awareness of embracing those things that bring us joy and challenge us to rethink how and if we allow space for things that don’t.

Last spring I rearranged my office. It wasn’t that I was unhappy with the layout. A vent wasn’t directly above me. I didn’t acquire any new furniture. I made the decision because I needed a change to my physical space as I began to think about my mental space as we turned the page on a truly challenging year. I sense a similar sentiment from Luther students as well. The opportunity to see their “space” in a new way. This fall, my rehearsals have been filled with a new sense of purpose, a gratefulness of opportunity, a value of fellowship, and a new love for choral music sung in community.

And so I challenge you to do the same. Rearrange your thinking as you reenter a familiar world.  Do so with the eagerness that occurs when we jump out of bed on Christmas morning and the generosity we share when we welcome a new friend to our dinner table. Ask yourself if there are lessons to be learned from the time of the pandemic and do we have the mental space and time to embrace that knowledge?

We hope you will join us either in person or for the live stream of Christmas at Luther 2021:  Awake! And Greet the New Morn. As the college reopens for visitors and we reintroduce this event on campus, your presence as part of this hallmark production is crucial. It will be easy to revert back to a holiday season filled with so much that there is little time for reflection and we hope you'll prioritize taking an evening to celebrate with us the birth of Christ.

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