I am not sure what Christmas really is anymore. I am almost afraid to think of what Christians are going through in the lands of the original Christian faith. By dint of place and time, I grew up in the Catholic faith, and try as I might, I can’t ever escape the roots of my Christian faith—though I am never absolutely convinced it is faith. It is, however, my means to a more spiritual life. I cannot kneel down in a church and not feel humbled by my “humanness.” It is the only place where I am completely contrite and real and searching.
I would love for more certainty. I would love for my faith to rule out all others, if only to be sure of my way through the Skyllian straits of life where every decision is based on uncertainty. I live within the weakness and greyer shades of heart and intellect mixed with an enduring hope that God works beyond the limits of my understanding—for what I know is always overshadowed by what I do not know. It is my restless soul– a battle that does not rage, but simmers beneath my surface, and what simmers is an overflowing broth of searching and acceptance.
A true God could expect nothing less.
My kids—all seven of them—gathered on couches and chairs around the TV last night and watched “Elf” together. I stood (yes, stood) watching them sprawled amongst each other laughing and simply being the family they are and was astonished that they are the fruit of mine and Denise’s creation. I did not need a re-reading of Genesis or a prayerful recollection of the Gospel of Mathew to know that we are more than bits of atoms and amino acids. I did not need anything more than the tears that streamed out of the depth of a magnificent and overwhelming grace and gratitude to accept the paradigm of a continued rebirthing of life and purpose.
The paltry presents under our tree are simply seeds—reminders of an enduring commitment to what we started as a family some twenty or more years ago, a nano second and molecule of time, that makes everything—everything!—as real and palpable as faith can be. It is our faith, in all of its myopic and blessed beauty! It is not a refutation of other faiths or a stubborn clinging to tradition; it is just who we are and what we aspire to be embedded in the culture of our lives—an instrument of God playing out a unique and enduring song that we sing with whomever is close at hand, regardless of the chorus we sing with. It is our collective soul that sings and rings of possibility—and within that myriad of possibilities are those chances we can’t afford to let slip by.
But they do slip by.
The animosity of righteousness blurs the boundary of our universal human decency, and so the quest to be right overrules the common sense of enlightened acceptance of differences. Here it is a fairly benign bigotry and self-centric claims of higher understanding above a more common ignorance—though it seldom really is. In the Holy land it is a bitter dogfight won or lost in brutality, subjugation and indifference to the human cost. We drop bombs and calculate in the cruel calculus of war what is acceptable loss. The warring factions in the Middle East brings a closer look at an equal depravity that seemingly knows no bounds.
Watching “Elf,” a Hollywood movie by any measure, I was struck by the ending. Nothing survives without a common song sung in common spirit and a belief in the unbelievable. The “reality” of Santa Claus in our home is never a point of discussion. There is no finite point of belief or disbelief. There is no age for our children that demarcates the real from the unreal. Santa is not a bringer of toys. He is the clarion song of reason in a world that is losing its reason. In the panoply of faith, Santa is an adjunct of Christian faith enacted in an enduring way, and while manipulated, distorted and blasphemed by commercialism, he still retains a power that we cling to because we have to believe and any diminishing of that faith diminishes the promise of a humane humanity.
Perhaps Santa is showing us that the giving of gifts supersedes the receiving of gifts, and all any of us can do is to give what we are able to give, and the larger that circle of giving, the larger the effect on the world. There is no true resolution in the dropping of bombs, the massacres of people of a particular faith or self-styled recitations of myopic arrogance. Herds of people are culled from the planet by the innocuous circumstances of fate.
Christmas is an action more than a belief. It is not just some enduring tradition perpetuated by ignorance. It is a stoppage in time, a resetting of the clock to a more infinite time, one that only God seems to understand, and if we don’t stop, the current reality will not stop and the tailspins of history will spiral in devolution and degradation in a return to a baseness that deflates and kills the promise of free will, which, in the end, is all we really have.
If you do not believe in Christmas, at least believe in the promise.
It is a reasonable start…