Another Christmas. Alone, this time, and thus an opportunity to reflect on just what Christmas means to me, and how that meaning has changed over the years. Well, more than an opportunity; more like a mandate, as when you experience Christmas alone there are no distractions with which to busy your mind and your body that speed you through this time that is usually so loaded with activities and preparation that, when over, leaves you ready for the proverbial "long winter's nap."
I was raised in a very fundamentalist evangelical church. I didn't know that at the time; there was no awareness any gradation or intensity to the religious experience. Nor was there any sense that religion and God were not synonymous. All that I knew was that there was a sense of warmth and love that permeated the entire season and that that sense included all those around me...family, friends, acquaintances and the whole community. Even in times of stress and uncertainty, Christmas seemed to transcend all and bring everyone together in an affirmation that regardless of the current challenges, all would be and was well.
Christmas is the one element of my childhood that I wish I could revisit and recreate in my life even now.
Youth doesn't leave us all at once; it is a gradual disappearing act that goes largely unnoticed in the excitement of the new experiences of growing up. But it does disappear, even if unnoticed. And those new experiences, for me, included questioning the Faith in which I was raised. Kids have questions. While we can be put off with non- and partial answers, our brains are not quieted and questions inadequately answered lead to diminished trust and belief. Much of the time this reduced belief is based on the false premises that our parents and elders know all and are simply refusing to reveal that truth to us; only much later in life do we realize that they weren't holding out on us; they didn't have the answers either. After all, it takes more than a little maturity to understand the difference between "faith" and "wishful thinking"; many adults still cannot tell the difference.
So, over the years I became what I only much, much later came to identify as an agnostic; I believed there was a God, but could not reconcile the various beliefs between the different religions in the world, all of which seem to declare supreme exclusive knowledge of the "Truth.". At the time, this awareness was lost in the main activity of "putting on" Christmas for my family and my children...the desire to reproduce for them the same sort of warm, fuzzy, loving and inclusive feeling that Christmas' past had provided me so long ago. My personal joy had largely disappeared in the process of trying to recreate that special feeling for the kids. When it was over I looked for nothing so much as the opportunity for that proverbial "long winter's nap."
But this period was still surrounded by the "spirit" of Christmas. It permeated the town, the community, the schools and even the Town Hall. Christmas was a unifier, and it provided a spirit of togetherness and dependence on and desire for a certain guidance from above as well as the the expectation that such guidance would be forthcoming if we only took the time to listen for it. I understood that my separation, even in part, from this experience was of my own doing, and I accepted that separation as what I perceived as a part of being "an adult." Time, of course, allowed be to much later discover that I was totally wrong on that count.
Today's life in America has changed so much. Religion...and the Christian religions in particular...have become unwelcome presences in official circles. Official America has become an acolyte of Secularism; Man has replaced God as the guiding element in life. Apparently the absurdity of such boot-strap reasoning is lost on all except me...but I am now old and my opinions are now deemed worthless. But I look with wonder and sadness at those growing up and now in power with no sense of guidance other than that of other men with no more wisdom that that which those in power already possess...and they know how inadequate and uncertain their own point of view; how, indeed, can they even suspect that any other human has anything more? How do today's leaders survive such burdens in the absence of knowing that there is available the guidance of a higher power? No wonder they fail so miserably so much of the time.
As we grow up, some of us put God-like wisdom in the person of our fathers...or mothers, or priests...and know we have grown up when those dependable rocks in our lives pass away and suddenly those younger that we are coming up to us with the same questions that we once asked our elders...and those asking the questions look at us with that same trusting sense of expectation of wisdom that we once put on our elders. That is the moment of truth, and the moment (for me) that I blessed being imbued with a sense of the availability of guidance from God.
Well, I certainly have no absolute answers. But I do have a certain comfort level for the present at least. I know that...again, at least for now (who knows what I will be led to be aware of in the future)...it matter little what errors we make in terms of mankind. God prevails, even as mankind chooses to suffer the consequences of bad decisions. Those consequences do, in fact, lead to learning...although each new generation apparently has to re-learn the same lessons. That is a shame, but not necessarily a bad thing.
I have come to terms with the fact: that the only absolute answers are those that seem to come to me directly from God; that all men of God may be presumed to mean well, but are fallible and their declarations and commands and judgement should be checked through individual prayer while remembering that all utterances of any man (or woman) are just that...human...and may not be assumed to be commands from God until confirmed in our souls by the almighty. I leave it to each individual to determine what form that confirmation takes. I, for one, take the utterances of Priests, Ministers, Imams and all other self-proclaimed representatives of religions, both organized and not, as statements worthy of noting but lacking any inherent sense of imperative or command...another human being's statement of "truth" is neither greater nor less than my own.
Age brings upon us a certain sense of quiet acceptance of ignorance and in comfort in knowing that the more you know (or think that you know) only makes you aware how much you do not and cannot know, leading to a willingness to accept the undeniable fact that the universe came into being long before our lives started and will continue long after it ceases and that we can take comfort in the fact that maybe we should often take our hands off the wheel, that maybe there is someone already at the wheel who knows more and can direct our lives more efficiently...and definitely more lovingly.
Christmas has become a time to be quiet and listen. And often the silence becomes a silent approbation of the fact that I am doing my best to not get in the way, not be too prideful, not be too "full of myself." Such quiet is reassuring and feels like the spiritual caress of a loving parent seeing my essence while ignoring my foibles.
I wish the same for each and every one. Merry Christmas