Thursday, December 29, 2005

Defiance & Submission on Christmas Eve

I hope you had a great Christmas. For me, Christmas was spent with a houseful of relations in north Texas, which meant for lots and lots of joyful noise.

One aspect of Christmas in particular stood out to me this year, and it involved my once- or twice-per-year trip to Catholic mass. I grew up Roman Catholic, only to walk away in college and then walk halfway back to evangelicalism, but I still enjoy my occasional reconnections with the church of my youth.

This year was no exception. My parents are members at a large church in Dallas, and we went to the children's Christmas pageant for our Christmas Eve observance, which meant lots and lots of joyful noise.

For a staid, sober-minded Presbyterian such as myself, a mass offers lots of confusion--standing, sitting and kneeling, gesturing and genuflecting. Add a sanctuary full of kids to the mix and the cacophony grows louder. But the loudest moments of the mass were actually the most unified--the Nicene Creed and the Lord's Prayer.

I was overwhelmed by the Nicene Creed, which involves among other things the statement "We believe in one God." The Creed doesn't care who's listening, it simply speaks the truth loud and in one voice. Here was a room full of people speaking truth defiantly--even if they didn't believe what they were saying.

Behold the power of a creed. It transcends the whims of the culture that inherits it. I am many things, but I'm no island, and the creed reminds me that no matter how defiantly I declare that the church is what I make of it, I'm still a passenger on a boat that is bigger than myself.

The Lord's Prayer completes the portrait. After such a bold statement of defiance, the gathered mass joins hands and prays together the prayer that Jesus taught us: "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us." We are defiant of the world but submissive to our Father in heaven. And we're all in it together.

The word mass itself suggests a lot of noise. Whenever you get a mass of people together, even the whispers of pairs join together into a rumble. And when all those pairs and all that rumbling begin to form a coherent, articulate statement, whether one of defiance or one of submission, almost anything can happen.

I won't go to mass again for months--perhaps even for more than a year. But in the meantime I can pray for a church that speaks to its world and its God in one big voice soon. One God, forever and ever, amen.

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