Monday, December 24, 2012
What Christmas is for me
What Christmas is to me
It’s interesting to be a person of faith and watch how actors on different sides of the playing fields of belief try to communicate to each other. Each perspective tries to dissuade or coax another into seeing things in a similar light. The problem is they each use a language native to their own ‘system’ and therefore often fail to reach any ears other than those of similar interest. Of course, ‘preaching to the choir’ is what most writing and speaking is all about these days with very little genuine effort at crossing the political and religious divides that affect our world. Religious folks talk about how it’s not really religion but they see things through the lens of tinted glasses, and they forget what it was like before they found the substance of their faith, and subsequently how to talk to those who have not shared that experience. Those of a more independent belief system have a color in their own lens, often trying to chip away at religious fervor with various stories that run counter to the history learned by those in church; facts that seem to disprove the faith that others hold dear. I get a chuckle when folks turn to me and rant a little about so and so group, waiting for me to agree and share their narrow minded accusations or muddied interpretation that some trend setting media outlet is pushing, and I decline. Sometimes I even offer the zealot of cynicism some bit of insight, “You do realize I am that person you speak of, hahaha, would you like another perspective on that issue?”
Well this Christmas I decided to write something about my faith in a casual manner, sharing my excitement for the mysticism of Christianity and this holiday, celebrating the birth of our Lord. Oh but haven’t I seen the addendum to Zeitgeist, the end all dis-prover of Judeo-Christian roots? Or perhaps I neglected to listen when my college history teacher attempted to explain the parting of the seas before Moses as actually meaning a change of the tides! We could go back and forth arguing this and that for a thin slice of eternity but for me faith is an experience.
As I grow still and embrace the sublime around me I can’t help but glimpse the reality of a world beyond this world, or within it, a perceptible realm of things beyond mortality and flesh. It’s nothing special really, no special gift, just a willingness to be sensitive to things that my aging body tries to ignore in its insatiable quest for comfort, contentment, and pleasure. Many have approached or glimpsed that world-beyond-sight through ascetic denial of the body, fasting and harsh living conditions. Some have used mind altering drugs, or perfection of behavior (or at least attempting such). Some have meditated for years and others harnessed energy that exists naturally and cultivates within the soul for profound influence on the world around them. Ah! Mystical you say? What’s mystical about angry church-goers screaming against soldier deaths because of gays in America? What’s so profound about a racist homophobic woman hollering, red faced against the ills of modern society? You probably watch a lot of TV first of all, but secondly distracting the masses from a different example of religious folks is a critical step in marginalizing Christians in America. You see, Christianity is deep in its mystery, it is profound in its effect on the heart, and the experience is one of peace, joy, and love, regardless of how short of those qualities I fall in daily life!
For me, the bridge to that unseen world is always open. It requires no plant or chemical, needs no perfection of the soul before I’m worthy to see it. That bridge is almost silly in simplicity. In fact, the bridge chases me when I turn away, reaches out when I am laid low, and refuses to close even when spit and cuss and glare. The bridge has personality and seeks me out, like a shepherd pursuing a lost lamb at pasture.
Being the person that I am, I am one who needs some extra support for belief of any claim. Many times I have said with my heart and my mouth, “Creator, God, whatever, whoever you are, speak in a way that I can understand, so that I can know you, know you exist in some way, show me something, kindle this little seed of faith that would otherwise die for lack of food and water”. And as if on cue a wide variety of miracles small and large have answered my request. Just as a monk should begin to feel and see the supernatural come into being as an answer to their drastic step away from the ‘world’, calling on God with sincerity, no matter how doubtful one is, yields results. And the greater that small seed of faith becomes the more expectant one is of the answer, and the greater the answer is! It is mystery!
There are many instances where the answer was so loud and clear that I made a promise to share the story with others over time. One such story was when my friend Roy and I were driving back from Boone on HWY 221 toward Marion in his Trans-Am, “Koga” (Crow in Cherokee). Roy and I lived in the woods together at the time and had landed some very minor gig teaching something, survival or martial arts, at a girls camp up near Linville. Roy, also known as Wayah (Wolf), was someone who shared this idea that faith yielded results, the spiritual world was accessible and tangible, and that gratitude and thankfulness were key elements of this pursuit. Moreover, Roy loved God. Neither one of us were any kind of squeaky clean figure, being tarnished in all number of ways haha, but on our drive home we were consumed in a discussion of how awesome is the spiritual and supernatural protection of our God when we listen to the subtle presence of spirit. We recounted times when we were snatched from a nasty fate by some intervention beyond our ordinary senses, and we took turns reading Psalms in the bible, all the while jamming to some gnarly heavy music in this rusted out car. A few times the wheel jerked to the right when he’d brake, and we even examined the steering system finding nothing. The whole trip something was a little off in the linkage system but we couldn’t find it. After an hour or so of twisting roads, sheer drop offs, oncoming trucks and hair raising passes around slow moving vehicles something popped. Loud. The wheels slammed hard to the right, skidded, and threw the car off the road – straight into the only gravel pull off available for miles in that area. A little shaken we got out and discovered the tie rod nut had fallen off, was likely missing the entire ride, and the steering wheel was completely disconnected from the wheels except for a small bit of tension on the right side. At first we were flooded with thoughts about how neither one of us had any money, we lived in the woods – literally. No jobs, no friends around, it was late and on the weekend so no shops were open. We walked a ways to and from the car hoping to see some sign of a junkyard or parts store and almost despaired. As we took a rest on the car hood the test of faith came, and instead of swearing about our predicament we began to be filled with praise about where the car landed, how it happened at a slow spot, that it didn’t happen earlier, and how the whole thing had turned out rather wonderful even if we didn’t see any way forward at this point. Right then I saw a piece of metal sticking up out of the sand and felt pressured to kick it. I dislodged a rusty old nut from the mud and had that feeling that can’t be described – I knew it was a gift. Sure enough as I climbed up under the car and tested the random find it was a perfect fit for the tie rod mechanism. We found a few washers, cut a piece of rubber for a fitting, and locked the wheel back using a piece of ‘perfect’ trash buried under rubble from the roadside. The car cranked up and we headed home with that intense burning energy, reflected in that amazing sunset ahead of us, that there was more to reality than the eye sees, and that somehow there was an echo to our spiritual quest, an answer to our praise and our prayer.
Like that rusty old nut under the sand we are each uniquely and wonderfully made to fulfill some creative expression of the divine, like a snowflake, that is just what it is for a reason. When we use our own desires or others’ expectations to craft our character and shape we may still find usefulness in this world but we risk missing out on what we were made for – perhaps a destiny beyond anything we are able to imagine. Often it’s not the perfect diamond, polished and beautiful, that the world needs anyway but a rusty old nut; discarded, forgotten, buried on the roadside. The effect that God has on us is similar, it’s almost like He enjoys taking what is the lesser in life and making great things out of it. He will find us and take us just as we are, with all of our flaws, and use us in some critical way that shows the handiwork of our special nature.
But how does one find the map, or in my earlier example, the bridge? People have found enough results to continue pursuing various rituals and fads. They balance chakras and release the breath and burn the incense and imagine the shapes and listen to the sounds and recite the words and eat the foods and so on. Within my faith it is simple. It’s a little odd, no doubt, and I understand from the outside it seems bizarre. I get quite a laugh out of those references to Christianity as a zombie religion where we worship a dead dude and eat his blood and flesh! Haha. Offense usually stems from insecurity. I’m a hard man to offend. If you want to find out more of what Christmas means to us, or you’d like to see what this bridge is that I speak of, or you can’t believe that the Creator could display personality and have a relationship but you are interested enough to try it’s this simple.
With your heart and mouth one simply says, “God I’d like to know you better. I’ve had doubt in the past but I want to see you, hear you, and know if you are real. I want a relationship with you. Show me your personhood through your Son, Jesus Christ. Forgive the many sins I have made, make, and will make, make me spiritually clean through the sacrifice of your Son on the cross. I accept you Jesus as my savior. Bring your holy spirit into my life to show me, teach me, comfort me, and reveal to me this spiritual world. Give me eyes to see the spiritual behind and above the physical. Accept me as your son.”
It can be a secret at first. The bridge is not through some special person, or a system, or a building, or a political party. It has nothing to do with anything in this world that claims importance. It is direct to the source. And on this day, Christmas, we Christians celebrate the birth of this person, this individual who was displayed as the physical manifestation of the Divine, all the qualities and characteristics the creator would like to see in us. And how did he behave? What did he teach? Did he condemn and scream hatefully to others? Did he celebrate the powerful church leaders of the time? Did he lay blame and guilt on those around him? Or did he love, and heal, and teach, and point upward to the father in heaven? Don’t think the behavior of many who call themselves Christian reflects the actions and attitude of our example from whom we derive our name.
Honestly it’s hard to claim this faith when I see how different I am from the example that Christ set, but it doesn’t mean I can’t try. And in the end, no matter how short I fall, it’s not my behavior and actions that gets me across the bridge anyway. He will seek me out, that’s called grace. And my heart of thanks cries out on this day, and my praise is for Him. And I am happy that the holiday most widely celebrated in association with Christianity is about one thing; giving. Give to others, be thankful, share love, allow grace, and be a light for the world no matter what the world returns to you. That is awesome. That is my faith. Merry Christmas to all my friends and family!