Tari Stage-Harvey is the pastor of Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church. (Photo courtesy of Tari Stage-Harvey)

Tari Stage-Harvey is the pastor of Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church. (Photo courtesy of Tari Stage-Harvey)

Living and Growing: Resolving to live in ‘Silent Night’ candlelight for 2024

I’m giving up exclamation points for New Year’s; 2024 will be the year of non-inflammatory statements.

I remember Mrs. Mackey in the second grade telling us about exclamation points and they were reserved for things like:

Fire!

Watch out!

Chocolate! (That’s dedicated to Tom Smothers and there is a wonderful tangent here that involves an old comedy sketch about falling into a chocolate vat)

Now it seems like exclamation points pepper every text and email I receive. I think for younger generations who have grown up with electronic communication this is a way of making things happy or adding inflection. For me, I feel like people are yelling at me all the time. Everything demands my attention and it seems overwhelming.

I’m going to live in “Silent Night” candlelight this whole year. There is a wonderful moment at Shepherd of the Valley and many other churches on Christmas Eve when we all light candles, turn off the lights, and sing “Silent Night” together. There is tenderness and peace as everyone softens some. When I look around at all those faces lit by candles, it’s impossible not to fall in love. We all look better in candlelight.

That makes me laugh, but it is so true. Unlike exclamation points that command and overwhelm, candlelight softens and blurs our edges. We all look a little more lovable in the gentle light of the candle.

What would it look like to offer a gentle light to others instead of a harsh light of interrogation or demands? To ask more questions and make fewer loud statements? What would it look like to take a deep breath and give some space for people to reflect instead of demanding an immediate reaction?

I fell in love with “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On” while on a flight out of Juneau. I don’t normally watch a movie on the 5:20 a.m. flight, but I already had too much coffee in my system to sleep. Movie selecting on the plane is hard for me. It can’t have anything scary, funny or sad. I’m pretty emotive and I don’t want to scream, cry, or laugh for everyone to hear. I thought I was safe with a movie about a mollusk wearing shoes but I was wrong.

My favorite scene is close to the end where Marcel, who is a big shell with a giant eyeball and shoes, stands on the windowsill with the breeze blowing through his shell creating a gentle whistle. He says, “It felt like everything was in pieces, and then I stood there, and suddenly, we were one large instrument. I like to go there a lot because it reminds me that I’m not just one separate piece rattling around in this place but that I’m part of a whole. And I truly enjoy the sound of myself connected to everything”

I truly enjoy the sound of myself connected to everything. That’s the sound of “Silent Night” by candlelight. I would like more of that in 2024 and less yelling.

My preaching professor once said that the louder a preacher got the less they believed what they were saying. I’m not sure that’s always true, but the general volume of all that is being said in our world right now is loud and doesn’t often ring with great truth. Repeating something with exclamation points does not make it more true. So, I’m going to take the volume down a couple notches and try to connect more, listen more, and bask in a gentle candlelight with others.

• Tari Stage-Harvey is the pastor of Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church. “Living & Growing” is a weekly column written by different authors and submitted by local clergy and spiritual leaders. It appears every Saturday on the Juneau Empire’s Faith page.

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