Christmas ~ ’tis the season

It was Christmas Eve or early Christmas Day, since it was closer to 2:30 a.m. just about three or four years ago.  It was snowing, my breath frosting from the air.  I’d stepped outside to have a cigarette.  All was quiet, all was still.    I had been invited to join a friend and her family for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  We had attended Midnight Mass and we were now home, the kids in bed, while we scrambled to get last minute stockings stuffed, presents tucked under the tree.  It was so quiet.

I thought back on that just experienced Mass.  I hadn’t attended Midnight Mass in years, and church hardly at all – for funerals, yes, but simply to gather with fellow believers in joyous song and thankful celebration?  No.  It was like returning to something known, but now foreign.  When to stand, when to kneel, taking my cue from my friend present at my elbow and her girls on my other side…  Her husband waiting in the wings for his trumpet solo.  Their church was set up like a theater in the round with parishioners gliding in with graceful pageantry, reading from scripture and the priest leading all of us in welcoming the Christ child and the music – that glorious throat swelling music!

In the cold stomping, snow falling, quiet night, I saw that congregation in my mind and a voice asked, “This is your line in the sand.  Will you defend their right to practice their religion?”

Christmas morning, I told my friend and she asked, as was her wont, straight and to the heart:  “Does that mean you are going to become a minister?”  Nope.

These are fragile, perilous times and maybe it was always so.  This past year, I’ve circled the local Catholic church, made it as far as the lobby and chickened out.  Tried on Easter Eve and got an anxiety attack.  Embarrassing, but true.  I am not a joiner, but I want so badly to be with people who celebrate the existence of God.  Who celebrate the Desiderata.  Who hear that still small voice within and honor it.  And, it is not like God is isn’t talking loud and clear.  I am at the dentist being drilled and the music system plays one of my very favorites, “Ave Maria.”  I’ve one of those minds that gets music worms, songs that repeat endlessly until you hear another more catchy tune.  I came home and googled all the variations on Ave Maria and then listened.  It finally occurs to me to wonder about the words.  They are always in a foreign language, Latin, German, Italian.  And, you know what?  It is the Hail Mary prayer.  Who knew?

A week ago, still feeling the longing to hook up with a community, I walked into the market and went to the card section.  I fell into a conversation with a woman – and as women do, we exchanged intimate details that would curl men’s toes, on five minutes acquaintance.  And, she mentions the struggles she has been having and how she has a longing to return to her childhood faith – same local church I’ve been circling.  She says she has made it as far as going inside, lighting a candle and saying prayers.  Hasn’t done mass yet.  She gifts me an extra copy the assembly booklet provided by the local church, Mass of Renewal.  Are you listening, self?

The following Saturday I attended the local Mormon Church’s annual Christmas Nativity and Concert weekend.  It was quite simply, wonderful.   It was both lovely and transformative.  To see their church ablaze with lights and decorations  That giant room filled with individual nativity scenes from all over the world and made from every kind of material from cloth to stone to an African nut and from miniature to Triptychs.  It was glorious, peaceful, affirming of the season and of Christ Himself and family, traditions.  The room with wall to wall Christmas trees lit up with lights.  The concert that followed was lovely and joyful.  The city of my birth reversed its 30 year tradition of displaying nativity scenes in the public square – wouldn’t want to offend someone’s sensitivities.  I stood in the room filled with manger scenes reflecting the ethnicity of whichever country it was from and I thought, “How could anyone be offended by this?”

I called the local Catholic church and the woman who handles outreach and welcoming new and returning Catholics could not have been more perfect.   Tomorrow, I am gearing up my loins and screwing my courage to the sticking point.   She will meet me by the church bell and walk by my side into the church.  In between masses, there is a lecture series on the bones beneath the skin of Catholicism, which suits me perfectly and, if I’m buoyed up on the wings of knowledge, I can attend the follow on mass or take to my  heels.  Wish me luck.

“Will you defend their right to practice their religion?”  Yes.  Yes,  I will.  Yes,  I am.  Right here, right now.  And mine.

19 thoughts on “Christmas ~ ’tis the season

  1. After brief encounters with Catholicism, as a result of my first wife, I can understand your fascinated trepidation! The ceremonial aspects of the Catholic Mass are intriguing, but the church has way too much negative baggage for me to accord ’em much respect.
    But hey, congrats on launching yourself into the blogosphere! You’ll do well!

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  2. Blogs can be tedious…self indulgent…and often – outright BORING! That is why, as a rule, I visit very few of them. Yet here – here I find the likes of a GREAT writer-storyteller. You have my attention chasing rabbit holes…and here you go.. Good luck with your venture!
    🙂 all is well

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  3. This was lovely …. writing skills to work. I’m on the same page as you, but in my instance I’ve nothing to come back to… there never was any belief. Grateful that has changed in the last year. I relate to not being a joiner.

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  4. Love this story. Thank you for sharing so honestly. One reason that I stand with a community to publically worship God is to show my honor towards Him with my brothers and sisters on earth. it also fulfills keeping holy the Sabbath. So I try first to go in gratitude and praise only instead of just being fed or given consolation. Our Lord honors your efforts.

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  5. Ah- not surprising that the comments are positive for the topic and/or the writing style. In the (best as I can remember) words of William F. Buckley “When the Catholic Church does something that I cannot countenance, I lay on the cool tiles in my bathroom until the feeling passes.” The Church is “run” by humans and the Pope rarely speaks infalliably (sp?) I always sit or stand in the back do to my slight agoraphobia and other issues and remember that these are just humans like me.

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  6. That is a beautifully stated story and so easy to relate to. I understand your trepidation and am glad you went despite your reservations.

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  7. Pingback: Changing My Mind | Chasing Rabbit Holes

  8. Believe it or not, but I was raised in a boarding school by catholic nuns. Over the years my faith shifted a little bit, I became more open-minded but the roots still remain the same. However I never went back to church and then, one day it was so long that I have been in church, that I was afraid the roof would give in, if I would show up. I could never concentrate in church again – I tried -, but I can when I walk outside with my dogs or when I see nature in general. I think I am one of those “Hey GOD..it’s me people” and I think that’s OK. GOD must have a good sense of humor…I mean..look at us 🙂

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    • NSLB, I am so glad you found this and took the time to read and comment. Then I find it again! I had two great aunts that were mother superiors… I attended a few services of other faiths or denominations and/or read and watched sermons on TV, but when it came right down to it, the place I felt most comfortable was the Catholic Church. And, good Lord, it is SO different now than when I was growing up. Am I a consistent goer? Nope. I do my best to set aside my Sundays as something apart from my every day routines and it is good and restful for me. (she said, writing this on a Sunday!) One of the nicest aspects of God is how personable He is, taking you whenever and however you are. And, yes, indeed, He’s got a wicked sense of humor!

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