Throughout Advent, the theme of Learning to Walk in the Dark by the luminous light of the moon & star-lit nights ushered us into the culmination of experiencing the Christ Child being birthed into our hearts once again on Christmas Eve when over 200 of us filled this sanctuary with joy & hope & music & candlelight as we lifted our voices together to sing “Silent Night, Holy Night”. We were graced by the presence of God among us…by our faith, on a cold winter night, lighting candles. There were 100 or so folks that I counted as part of this congregation or larger family groupings, but the other 100 or so folks I had never met, they weren’t connected to in any way, except that moment in worship. And in that moment, I felt so connected, such a sense of belonging, and goodness, and hope, of all is well…
There is a Danish concept that captures this feeling, especially in the deep, dark days of winter, these moments in our lives when we feel a deep sense of connection, a feeling of togetherness, a senes of belonging. That concept is called HYGGE. Blogger Louise Thomsen Brits describes hygge as:
“The art of building sanctuary & community, of inviting closeness & paying attention to what makes us feel open hearted & alive, to create well-being, connection & warmth, a feeling of belonging to the moment and to each other, celebrating the everyday.” As I read those words, I thought, isn’t that one of the primary aspects of faith communities? She goes on by writing:
“In our overstretched, complex, modern lives, hygge is a resourceful, tangible way to discover deeper connection to our families, our communities, and our earth. It’s a practical way of weaving the stuff of spirit & heart into daily life, then taking time to celebrate it on a human scale. Hygge is about appreciation. It’s about how we give & receive. Hygge is about being, not having.”
Loosely translated, hygge is coziness & togetherness. But it’s more than that. Hygge is an experience of well-being that is based on relationship, willingness to put effort into cooperating & appreciating one another, a sense of gratitude & simplicity. And apparently lighting lots of candles. From 6-15 at a time. Danes burn 13 lbs of candle wax pppy.
In our personal lives, we each have had an experience of this concept – gathering around the table for a shared meal, reading a good book on a dark stormy night wrapped in a blanket with a fire in the hearth, and a purring kitty in your lap, drinking a cup of hot cocoa, apple cider, or hot buttered rum.
A British dictionary proclaimed hygge #2 of the top 10 words of 2016 (#1 was “Brexit” and Trumpism also made the top 10 that year). Hygge was added to the Oxford dictionary in 2017: A quality of coziness & comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being. The concept of hygge took off in Britain following the Brexit vote, and now has a following in the US because we too, apparently need a sense of this coziness, warmth, and cheer the Danes cultivate.
Winnie the Pooh: “You don’t spell it, you feel it.” Meik Wiking, author of the Little Book of Hygge, tells a story about spending the weekend with friends at an old cabin a few days before Christmas.
It’s the shortest day of the year, snow covers the land as they hike back to the cabin. The sun sets as they return at 4 in the afternoon. They head inside to light a fire. Tired after hiking, half asleep, the friends, wearing big sweaters and woolen socks, sit around the fireplace, just watching the flames, not speaking. The stew bubbles softly on the stove, the fire crackles and sparks. One friend breaks the silence, “Could this be any more hygge?”
After a moment, another friend nods, “yes, if there was a storm raging outside.” That’s hygge, to be with friends, warm & safe, in the midst of a storm.
An article in the NYT: “Make Room for the Hygge Hordes” described this concept as a
“Danish national manifesto, an obsession expressed in the constant pursuit of homespun pleasures involving candlelight, fires, fuzzy knitted socks, porridge, coffee, cake & other people.
This cozy happiness isn’t a retreat from the bleakness of the world; it isn’t done in fear of what tomorrow will bring. Hygge is not just an absence of things that might be overwhelming or places where we feel powerless. Despite the long, dark, hard winters, and being in one of the highest tax brackets of the world, most Danish citizens see this as the means to help create & sustain a better society. Danes are considered to consistently be in the top three countries of the happiest people in the world. Their hyggelig lifestyle is supported by having one of the highest quality educational systems with universal access to healthcare; work-life balance, gender equality, and guaranteed minimum income with policies that promote the general welfare of its citizens.
It is a practical way of creating sanctuary in the middle of a hard, complicated life. Hygge acknowledges the sacred in the secular – that there is something extraordinary in the ordinary. And isn’t that what our lives in God, in the incarnation of Jesus, is about? Recognizing the extraordinary in the everyday ordinariness of life.
This sense of hygge could be translated as “intentional intimacy”. Most of us desire intimate relationships where we are known and we know others profoundly & deeply. Where we cultivate a deep connection. This requires time & intentionality to grow intimate relationships. In the US – there is no cultural equivalent of this concept of Hygge in any of our institutions…except possibly – church. It is in our spiritual faith communities where this concept of Hygge – of belonging, well-being, intimacy – has a chance to exist, no matter what we call it. Our shared vision and purpose of being “bound together in Christ” allows for intentional intimacy or Hygge to occur.
This sense of Hygge provides space for renewal, to reclaim what we know is true. As people committed to justice and compassion, it is easy for us to get overextended. There is much to do to resist hatred & discrimination. So many direct threats – to individuals’ lives, to human rights, to democracy, to truth and facts, to world peace, to the very planet we call home. We tend be constantly driven to do and achieve. Mystic Thomas Merton wonders if our overdoing becomes our undoing; if our modern rush to constantly do is a bit of self-violence. These complex times meet our angst, we get caught in the conundrum between needing to do something and despair. The world in which Jesus was born was no less violent and despairing, AND Jesus grew into a child of God that would invite us to experience the goodness of God, the blessing of abundant life, to experience a place of belonging WHILE setting another place at the table to offer abundant life and belonging to neighbor.
There is the happiness that comes when everything is going well, but there is also a happiness, a deeper joy of abundance, that can abide in us in difficult times. We cannot control the first, but we can cultivate the second as we hone our ability to live out of peace, joy & contentment rather than fear. Happiness comes when we recognize our good is tied with and to the good of others. Isn’t this is why we are all here on this morning instead of cocooning in our homes? However you may have phrased your reasons for coming to church, isn’t it to be renewed in faith, to be reminded that you are not alone, that others share your hopes and dreams and are committed to working toward them with you? This is the way of hygge & happiness. Our coming together in a holy huddle to love God & one another in faith fellowship is an essential spiritual practice. When we are anxious, we can return to our faith community, where the sanctuary of hygge holds us and rejuvenates us, giving us space to put down our burdens and shift our perspectives from alienation to interdependence, from anxiety to open-heartedness, from weariness to welcome.
Let us light our candles and create our safe, cozy spaces – we all need respite and sanctuary – but let us also remember that our call is not to stay safe & cozy but to be about the transformation of the world.
May that love which has flowed through this church flow through us now & on into a future which we cannot see but which we trust bends toward justice & peace. May we be happy.