This year, as every year, I have played over and over again, Jim Reeves’ beautiful ‘Christmas Songbook’, a collection of carols and popular songs that lasts almost a whole hour, recorded more than a generation ago. It begins with a song about feeling sentimental at Christmas-time, as the calendar year ends, bringing back memories of years gone by, of family and friends. It becomes a time of reflection about small and big things; an old card, a poem, a carol, or just the sight, smell or taste of some traditional dishes and decorations, perhaps bringing a tear to the eye of those who have lived for a while, and create energy and excitement of young children, grandchildren and youth. We notice that that life goes and comes, that the old withers and perish while the new grows and blooms. Yes, even we modern and rationale human beings, Christians, Muslims, and others, we may reflect and sit still, as we also do during Ramadan, Eid and other religious occasions; we think about the sacred and secular, about God and fellow human beings. In our new year’s thoughts and resolutions, we can include a bit about many of life’s mysteries.

In one of the songs, there is a little boy who says to his father, when he tucks him in to sleep in the evening, after the day has been long and filled with many activities: “Daddy, my daddy, you taught me lots today. So, my daddy, my daddy, teach me how to pray. You brought me home a brand new kite and showed me how to fly. And there is no other kid’s dad who can kick the ball so high. I’d like to thank God for you. But I don’t know what to say. So, daddy, my daddy, teach me how to pray.”

The father left the boy’s room, and the boy began to cry, and so did the father, not wanting the boy to see that he cried, too. And then the father was reminded that he had himself forgotten how to pray, having been so busy with everyday business and chores. The little boy reminded his father that we should be grateful for what we have been given, making it possible to live happy lives, loving and being loved. Some of us may have little of earthly belongings; yet, real richness is in the heart, not in the things around us, although we also need some of those.

I believe that the religious holidays, birthdays and other events, are important for people to take a break in everyday chores. I believe that the Christmas message has less to do with the birth of Jesus as a person. It is the message that he brought that is important, namely that human beings should not only fear and worship God, but we should also love one another. That was the new covenant, the basis of Christianity and Islam. Every religious event is important because of the message it brings. We must reflect on our relationship with God and fellow human beings. The events give us an opportunity and reason to reflect and focus on the sacred and secular.

Like the boy and the father in Jim Reeves’ song, we must all listen to our inner voice. We can do that alone and in conversation and community with others, in religious and non-religious settings. Often, religion is part of the secular, as it was for the boy and the father in the song. The boy just wanted to be thankful for what he had been given, indeed for his father. He had a feeling of something sacred.

But then, we human beings are not religious all the time. We may just reflect on issues, with religious thoughts just having a small place in it all. We reflect on the mystery of life; that all human beings do, whatever culture, tradition and religion we belong to. Indeed, we human beings are more alike than we think – even if we come from places very far apart. The basics, the essentials, are the same everywhere.

When I reflect at this time of year, I become still – and impressed by other people, who are so kind and considerate, even when they have little of gold and glitter, and when life isn’t always easy. As for children and youth, everywhere in the world, they bring energy, hope, inspiration, creativity – and a lot of fun, without which everyday life can become a bit too serious and boring. We do not have to be logical and rational all the time, and if we are, it is good if children can distract us and remind us of fun things. Besides, there are often serious things just below the surface of fun stories and light jokes.

Let me end my article today with some serious thoughts, as I reflect on what was most important in the year that now ends. What did we focus on in 2017, what were the most important new things that we learnt, with impact on people everywhere? It is a big question, and not so easy to answer. There were so many themes in the public debate and so many important things that we learnt.

Still, let me mention one thing, or one area, which has drawn attention of people all over the world in last months of 2017, notably the ‘Me Too’ or, #metoo campaign. It is about harassment of women, about treating women in ways that they do not like, often with attention of sexual aspects. In Scandinavia, in Sweden, and my home country Norway, thousands of women have come out with stories that are shocking. In the past, it seems that men were supposed to behave slightly offensive, and many were directly aggressive, towards women, even in workplaces. Women were not supposed to report if and when it went too far and was uncomfortable for them. The #metoo campaign has changed all that; if the campaign goes well, sexual harassment will become unfashionable and certainly direct abuse. Perhaps Western countries can learn some lessons from Muslim traditions in this field? I believe there are.

In Scandinavia, the #metoo campaign has rugged the centres of power in political parties, indeed the Labour Party in Norway, which was otherwise seen as the champion of gender equality, and of greater justice and equality between classes and groups locally and globally. But, alas, disgraceful treatment of women, even harassment, was not quite on the agenda.

The #metoo campaign was about misuse of power against women. There are many other fields where women and men misuse power and treat others in condescending and instrumentalist ways, making it difficult or impossible for the one with lower rank and status to be at a level playing field. Equality is better for the ruler as well as the ruled. We know when we behave right, but strangely, we don’t always follow the inner voice that tells us how to behave and how to respect ourselves and others. The little boy in Jim Reeves’ would have been able to tell us instinctively. I believe that the #metoo campaign signalled a watershed and a new era in social relations. We will remember that it began in 2017.

Dear Reader, I thank you for having read my stories in 2017. I look forward to your company in 2018. Please send me an email once in a while. But most of all, I offer my best wishes for your life wherever you are. Let us be positive and kind towards each other; then others will know that we have a bit of God’s light in us.