At the end of one of my favorite books Watership Down, as everything is back to normal, the main character - Hazel- passes one of the female rabbits who is telling some of the young rabbits stories of the Black Rabbit's adventures. As they pause to listen, they hear a fantastical story, and even though it seems unbelievable, there is a grain of truth, for the story she is telling is really the story of Hazel and what he managed to accomplish with his friends. Yet it is incorporated into the legend of the Black Rabbit - the one magical, mystical rabbit that watches over them all.
It's Christmas Eve, and as usual, I am pondering the existence of God and of "The Reason for the Season". I have questioned this as long as I can remember, unable to take the Bible for anything more than a collection of stories that might or might not be true, told and retold over the years until someone finally wrote them down, with no idea how accurate they might be, but with the understanding that these stories perhaps evolved from truth, much like the stories of the Black Rabbit evolved from true life in Watership Down.
My biggest problem is that I cannot believe in God as a father figure, watching over us, guiding us. I cannot believe in the presence of a Satan - of a distinct Good and a distinct Evil. I have read too many creation stories from different cultures that all have a common theme - that of the choice between life and death (sometimes humans make the choice, as in Genesis, and sometimes the choice is made for them). I am, unfortunately, too practical, too scientific to blindly accept this sort of thing on faith. It is easier for me to rationalize that the myth of the Supreme Being(s) makes it easier for people to follow rules if they have the threat of divine retribution, and allows them to explain the unexplainable, like hardships and pain and death.
I believe that Jesus was a man with a lot of radical ideas for his time. I believe that he was a compelling speaker and was able to convince people to share with each other, to think about things in a different light, and for that, he should be remembered. I can not, however, believe that he was capable of miracles, that his mother was a virgin, that any angels spoke to anyone about his birth, or that he rose from the dead. This, I know, makes me subject to eternal damnation in the eyes of some of those who are on the more fundamental side, but what they fail to understand is that the lessons he taught are just as important, and somehow mean more to me if he was a plain, ordinary man, than if he was really this magical 'Son of God' creation that right-wing Christianity has turned him into.
Jesus will, therefore, never be anything more to me than just a man - a man who said some important things, but still just a man. And I don't know if I will ever be able to believe, completely, in God. I can accept that there is something out there greater than myself - some power that has the ability to alter things, although whether it is one or many I do not know. My mother, who was recently consecrated as a minister in the Methodist church, is probably one of the most accepting and open people I know when it comes to religion, and she and I have had a number of conversations on this. I don't quite grasp her faith and her conviction in the existence of God, but I do admire her for it. She has this faith, not because she was told to believe it, but because she has found it for herself, somehow, somewhere. In a way, I envy her because, and perhaps this may seem odd, despite everything I wrote above, I *want* to believe. I want to be able to get my arms around that higher power and understand this thing called faith. I just don't seem to be able to.
It's Christmas Eve. In a few hours I'll change into something a bit more presentable than an old flannel shirt and my favorite jeans, and go join my parents at the late night service, same as I have done for years. I'll greet everyone with a smile and possibly a hug, and we'll sing all the familiar Christmas hymns, and when we light the candles at the end and sing to that flicker of candlelight, I will get that same shiver up my spine as I listen to the voices around me. And as the last note fades away, the congregation will file silently out into the chilly night, not speaking above a murmur until we are outside because somehow it is more appropriate that way. After arranging times to meet at my parents' house for Christmas morning, I will drive back home, my favorite Christmas album on the stereo, and then I will stand outside in the dark and look up at the stars as I have done nearly every year since I struck out on my own and let the spirit of Christmas settle in the silence of the night. I may never fully understand what it is, but for now, as it has been each year, it will be enough.
Happy holidays to all of my readers, whatever belief you embrace, whatever occasion you choose to celebrate this winter. And special thanks to Rob who managed to put into words his thoughts about God (which are eerily similar to mine) far more eloquently than I ever could.