Don Rogers: What Christmas gives
By God’s grace, only by God’s grace, do we celebrate Christmas as we do. I believe this to be true, although I am not at all churchy.
Pastor Tillinghast, one of my ancestors who founded the first Baptist church in America in the early 1600s, in Rhode Island, would be very disappointed, I’m sure.
But one of the blessings of this country is that freedom of religion is also freedom from religion. Church for me is more a means of tracing lineage — the Catholic Irish, the Presbyterian Scots, our families’ new world tilt to Protestantism leading to both my wife and I being baptized as young children into the Methodist faith.
I’m endlessly fascinated by how we two of nearly the same British Isle mutt mix of bloodlines, she raised in the Midwest and me in the far West, found each other and have lived more than half of our lifetimes now as one.
I believe, no doubt irrationally, in fate, in the guiding hand of God. What will be will be as it can only be, even with all of our choices. But we choose willingly, and remember that not choosing is a form of choice, too. I’m not saying I’ve gotten my head around this concept of free will, or apparent free will, rather.
Perhaps I’ve grown too pointy-headed, academic, scholarly, pretentiously intellectual and temporal for making leaps of faith in the religious sense. Or if, as with classical music, my parents force fed me just enough that I’ll never have a taste for Sundays in a pew, dressed up and enduring the side rituals for the meat of the service, the sermons, which even while I was a child did reach me.
Apologies to those I may offend for believing the church stories — from all the great and small faiths — to be myth, though I respect the allegories and fables and embedded wisdom I think I hear in them. I also respect people of faith for their commitment and beliefs even if I don’t share these in the same rich detail.
I just don’t think we humans have the answers. Being humans, we have big imaginations. Yep, we make a lot of stuff up. Surely that’s no revelation.
But we can’t make up the night sky, and I find myself frequently thanking God for such a humbling view as I think about just how small I am, how small we all are together. We can’t make up the passage of time, the laws of physics, the very fact of our existence. I thank and ask God about these all the time.
I don’t pretend to understand any of it, not really. Of course, I don’t understand math or music, either. I just thank God that some of us do, and for the works that spring from their understanding of what is truly miraculous to me.
I thank God that I can express blasphemies here that would have me stoned to death in some of Earth’s more primitive reaches and eras. And that I can celebrate this great Christian holiday fully and thankfully and generously without setting foot in a church or professing to swallow the strain of my baptism whole.
I thank God for my blessings and that I can wonder at these fellow travellers through life, one I chose and two more whose life spark ignited through us, and now two more very excited little guys for this big day, Christmas.
We give each other presents — mostly toys again with the grandsons, and always books, booze, more books; you know, the essentials — but the truth is that God granted the great gifts and we’re merely taking a spot of time to celebrate them.
The holiday is Christian, lashed to habits from B.C. as well as some more modern inventions. But even that grand embodiment of consumerism, Santa Claus, tugs at the spirit, if from behind Plexiglas this year.
This holiday, even we non-believers can’t help but consider the miracle of our existence and how it all came to be.
However humble or elaborate our celebrations, it’s by grace that we have them. I might be making this part up, but I do think there’s a message for each of us in them. Take it as you will. I’m just saying to God: Thanks.
Don Rogers is the publisher of The Union, Lake Wildwood Independent, and Sierra Sun. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-477-4299.
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