Arafel

This year, especially, I would like to embrace a traditional Christmas. I don’t mean a Downton fa-lalling with Mrs. Patmore’s pudding (although that would be lovely too.) I mean an olde Christmas. An advent. We’ve got a good one at our church; if you’re the churchy type, I hope you do too. I love the darkness, and the bass organ, and a candle—sort of a bookend for Tenebrae. I love a smattering of old languages. I love the craziest scriptures. I love stuff that’s isn’t easy to grasp, because, you know? Reality isn’t easy to grasp. I love it when the mystery and the grandeur of the service is right up there with, say, astrophysics. I don’t mean stuff that’s hard to follow in the bulletin. But I mean a liturgy that goes beyond Happy Birthday, Jesus. The religious right likes to make things simple: Jesus or hell. But the other church—the attractive church—is the religion of quanta. At its best, it acknowledges the crash in the darkness. It emulates the confounded sages who use all their courage and their brains and their camels to follow a star. It doesn’t try to appeal by being new, because what lasts is the old—the ald—which is a word that shares a root with the Latin alere, which means “to nourish.” I don’t favor particularly the high church; that’s not what I’m aiming at. A peasant’s encounter with an angel among his sheep is about as low as it gets. But I love how, at Christmas especially, it’s easy to imagine the Church, through time, as a cathedral. It is immense, and majestic, and venerable. And I think we build a sense of grandeur and continuity when we stand in the old rooms for a while. We need it double this year. We need the mystery of something else coming. We need a chant that, for ages, has bid all mortal flesh keep silent. We, ourselves, need to keep silent, while we sit with all the millennia who also wait.

(Originally posted December 21, 2017)

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