We drove out to Nevada City to spend Christmas with our son, his wife, and her parents—dear friends all—and attended an evening Episcopal service where Katie sings in the choir.
I’ve never accepted the basic Christian theology—an anthropomorphic god, original sin, a literal afterlife—but I connect strongly with the myth. For me, the test of myth isn’t whether it’s true—no, dammit, it’s myth!—but how it evokes something true in oneself. My problem with theology is my sense that it diminishes the myth. Gives you the answer, saves you exploring. (For others, no, it works, and I respect that.)
For me, Christmas is the day when we celebrate birth. All births, and the immense grit & sweat labor that women take in bearing new life. Every birth is an occasion for joy, but it’s not practical to have shepherds, magi, and angel choirs to visit the birth beds of every woman, so we bundle them all together. Each newborn is an astonishment, and may be the messiah to redeem us, to bring our souls alive, to extend our gifts, our love, our achievements to new generations. If, after death, we do in fact dine on roast pig and sing in tune, that’s great, but otherwise we simply trudge forward, for a really long time, as humankind.
The power of this story exists too in its realism: no room at the inn for childbirth, the shepherds’ astonishment, parents becoming refugees, and Herod’s slaughter—innocent death alongside the rejoicings. The Church has declared the murdered children as saints, but that wasn’t great comfort to their parents.
Of course that bit of the story may be untrue, and given the population of Bethlehem at the time, it’s likely that something less than 100,000 infants were murdered—more like a dozen or so, which would barely make the front pages today. And it’s confusing to the narrative of “God gave his only begotten Son.” What about those kids, made in God’s image but less fortunate in their parentage? In any case, I think we might offer a moment of silence to them.
For me, the mystery of the Oneness of reality is immensely more awe-inspiring than traditional images of God. It may not offer the comfort that people find in a personal father or mother god, but my view doesn’t exclude the concept of Grace: the overwhelming gifts of life, of love, of consciousness that we’re given—whether we like it or not.
And so I celebrate the Christmas feast with joy among family and friends, and I translate the words of the Nevada City priest into my own language as I will, and I give thanks for a new return of Light.