A time to pause and reflect

 Wednesday, December 30, 2015
Hugh Ralston


As the holidays move from tinsel, wrapping paper and new gifts to plans for New Year’s Eve, there is a chance to pause and reflect on the many gifts and blessings of the past year.

We have much to be grateful for, living in the heart of California’s agricultural abundance and in a country that respects the freedom to gather and worship, and where community is something that we can build together to shape a better future.

Time can slow for the moments are real

Time can slow during the holidays: families reconnect, old friends catch up, a useful nap, a quiet afternoon reading or watching the latest game; even joining (with apparently millions) to experience the latest Star Wars chapter. It is time we can savor, and enjoy for what it is.

We also can take a moment to remember those who have left us, those whose worlds have been buffeted by tragedy, change or circumstance, or those whose daily struggles call up different responses to the holiday season. As creatures built for community, we are reminded of how these connections with people and places frame our lives, and shape what gives it meaning, value and focus.

The holidays are often powerful, and challenging at the same time, because they connect us with our past, our families and memories of younger days. Events, traditions and symbols can carry baggage. Not every moment is jolly or filled with eggnog. But the moments are real, and valuable if only for that alone.

When the work of Christmas begins

Amid the annual bustle, I have often been taken with the words of Howard Thurman, a noted theologian, educator and civil rights leader, who reminds us the real work of Christmas begins after the holidays.

The Work of Christmas by Howard Thurman

When the song of the angels is stilled, 

when the star in the sky is gone, 

when the kings and princes are home, 

when the shepherds are back with the flocks, 

then the work of Christmas begins: 

to find the lost, 

to heal those broken in spirit, 

to feed the hungry, 

to release the oppressed, 

to rebuild the nations, 

to bring peace among all peoples, 

to make a little music with the heart…

Music in the heart as well as the voice

For me, the holidays are always about music, recalling favorite carols or motets, singing familiar hymns and being surrounded by the sounds of the season. Each year, I search for concerts and that sublime moment – when the soul is touched with something authentic, human and communal. It is in a voice, a harmony or sometimes a new rendering of a familiar text. That is music in the heart, which can transcend even the most relentless recordings at the mall.

Every holiday has its moments – some become amusing (with the passage of time) but the ones that linger for me are the ones when that spirit of the Christmas season lands and connects. It is what is so special about this time of year, where the holidays last beyond the moment.

Christmas throughout the year?

Thurman is right. The true work of Christmas is never done, and lasts beyond the disposal of the trees, the packing up of ornaments and a pursuit of new toys in a new year. In our work of strengthening community philanthropy, we seek the connections to the core of our mission, the ways that it touches our souls and shapes our views of the world we live in and those with whom we share it.

That work of community continues all across the Central Valley. We are so privileged to be able to work together with so many. Happy New Year, indeed!

Best Regards,

Hugh J. Ralston
President and CEO 
(559) 226-5600 ext. 101 

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