I was born a Christian. My parents, deep believers in a life of service to the divine, we called this God when I was young. But it was the heart of love of the divine that was the bedrock of my childhood. I longed to be a nun, as my stop over on the way to sainthood. I loved the stories of the female saints, rebellious and generous, willing to risk it all to love God, casting off the role’s society assigned to them to heed a higher call. I gathered flowers from the park and left them in front of Mother Mary’s icon in the church, gazing at her so long that I would well with tears. I am devotional by nature, and by nurture.
Also, I am no longer a Christian, neither are my parents. Yet I can say with most confidence that we all still carry a deep love of Christ, and the Christ story that we know. And we carry, each one of us, wounds from the false ideals, condemnation and shame woven deeply into most Christian traditions. I call it my “religious shrapnel” I keep pulling pieces out that I didn’t even know were there.
It is a strange thing to navigate no longer identifying as a Christian, while still carrying a tenderness and love for the traditions and beliefs that I was surrounded by in my childhood. I am moved deeply by hymns and prayers, I speak aloud words of blessing to God the Father, I hang images of the Divine Mother, in the form of Mary on my walls and light candles to her, sing her songs and kiss her well-loved face. I know that I can claim her as my own and not have to attach to a set of thoughts and structures that are not congruent to what I hold Holy.
I am in love with God, wildly and madly, and in all forms. But I am not in love with religions laws, the path of carnage wrought on the world in the name of God, the terrible tyranny that plagued our ancestors and continues now across the world in the name of religious colonialism, this now tends to wear the face of “missionary work.” Before anyone gets up in arms, I am not saying that all mission work is based in ulterior motives of conversion or control, but it seems to me that an awful lot of it is. If food, medicine or education is given at the cost of giving up ancestral beliefs and practices, that is a terrible tyranny indeed. How many cultures have been lost this way? “Christianized” away from the voices of their old ones, severed from the threads that held them together, the ancient ways of praising life. Is this what is called “being saved?”
Even with all that in my consciousness, when this time of year comes around and the air is filled with songs of Christmas. As soon as I hear the strums of a well-loved carol, my heart fills past brimming, and my eyes frequently do as well. Some of that emotion is linked to the oldness of the thing, the knowing of how many humans have sung these same words across time, we, all linked in timeless union through these words. And then there is the longing present…the hunger to call the sacred to the earth, to wed it, to have it live in us.
I can see my Mother in my minds eye, face lit by the light of the advent candles, eyes closed and uplifted as we sang together , Oh come Oh come Emmanuel, and Silent Night, and so many of the oldest carols, the ones still tasting of the hunt, and the rising of the sun. Her devotion, the pure love of praise in her face and her voice, this image alone could feed me for 100 days in the dark and keep despair at bay. I will be, all my life grateful for this ritual of advent my parents gave to me. I am in awe that after long days with children and work and the immensities of family life, that they carved out those precious moments every night( or nearly every night) of advent to bring us all together and offer prayers and songs to welcome the Christ child and bless his mother. What an act of love.
One of my favorite songs as a wee one was The little Drummer Boy. I loved the pa rum pum pum pum, how we would roll it off our tongues, the somewhat staccato rhythm. My body has always loved a beat.
The images of the song were strong for me. I was a young one too, I was a poor one too, not boy but girl, and not drummer, but I did have a recorder and that was something I could play. I longed to play for that baby, that child to be born in the manger, with all my heart.
Last week I was leading a song circle for the elders at the retirement community where I work. We sang The Little Drummer Boy, and as I looked around that circle, seeing the love in each one’s face, the tenderness, the same I carry, a new layer of meaning began to unfold.
The deep ache to have something to offer to life “ I am a poor boy too, I have no gift to bring, that’s fit to give a King” We long, I long, to give something precious of myself to life, to the king in this story. Of course we are poor, we are so hungry for a taste of something real, something true that we can sink our teeth into, plant our hearts into, breathe life into. In some ways, we all feel inadequate and unworthy, as if we have so little to offer of value. In fact, I will go ahead and say that I have never met a human that has not felt this way at times and for many of us this belief is absolutely running the show.
The place in the song where the tears always come for me, if they have not begun already is when the little drummer boy see’s that he can play, that his gift, his only gift, is the right one, the perfect chosen one. “And I played for him pa rump pump um, on my drum”
The exquisite beauty of being received. Would that we all find this great mercy.
Then the image of the wee babe, new to life and breathing it all in. I don’t think of him much in a manger, although the image is idyllic. I prefer to see him at the breast, suckling and sleeping, baby milk smiles on his face. Mary in the exhausted and exalted place of new motherhood, holding life in her very arms. You do not have to give birth to Jesus to know this wonder. And you do not have to born as Jesus to be born holy. This is the gift of incarnation, we are born, whole and holy. Trouble is that we seem to forget along the way, amnesia clouding our vision of who we were born to be and from who we have come.
I think it is us we are singing to. I think I am that baby at the breast, new to the world and filled with light. And you are that baby too.
Could we welcome again into our hearts our own divine place in the order of things? Could we learn to offer freely the gifts we have been given, in love and service to the holy? Could we see the sacred, that we could call Christ, alive in each one of us, and midwife that to grow and thrive through all our days? I offer up a prayer for this becoming. I offer up a prayer for us all, knowing that this prayer, and these words are the gift I am meant to be giving.
And I played for him pa rum pump pum..on my drum…
Much Love to you all, may you find space and quite in this fertile darkness.