Thursday, December 25, 2008

A Christmas with(out) Mystery and Magic

If, as Aleister Crowley states, a man sneezing is a magical act then this is the most magical time of the year, as they say.

What really makes the season magical in my experience is the celebration of the season grounded in ritual celebration. Sure, we have our secular traditions in which Christmas is a time of consumer sacrifice to the great god we call the economy. There are also a diversity of rich symbolic traditions, whose meanings we rarely consider, and which have primarily become a way of reaching back in time to connect in some way to Christmases past. They are a magical act in that they might conjure up memories and a feeling of breaking through the shackles of time towards an eternal longed-for moment.

I have no such traditions that work for me. No family or cultural traditions that work such magic. As a kid there were just too many expectations and obligations involved. Once I outgrew the Christmas morning toy seeking frenzy, there wasn't much that I liked about the holiday, at least as I knew it then.

For a number of years Christmas wasn't a religious holiday for me. It was a misplaced solstice celebration in worship of the consumer economy. Working in retail in a mall bookstore exposed me to the more gruesome aspects of the consumer act of sacrificial purchase. In ancient animal sacrifice the priest was essentially a sacred slaughterhouse worker: slit the throat, let it bleed out, slit the belly, toss the entrails on the fire. Working in a mall bookstore through the entire sacrificial season was somewhat similar in regards to the consumer version.

All of that was years ago (Deo Gratias), but for years after there just was no appeal for me, at least until I started attending Ecclesia Gnostica services. Even the first years of doing that, the EG didn't have its own space locally and so didn't offer a midnight mass on Christmas. So, I attended Roman Catholic services for a few years, then Eastern Orthodox. They were nice, and I appreciated them. The RC services at the Cathedral of the Magdalene were high production affairs with live music. The EO services I attended were intimate and meditative. Yet, for me they lacked, they weren't the celebration of the mystery that was closest to my soul, the form that was such an important part of my spiritual life.

After we started holding services in a century old deconsecrated RC chapel, we were able to hold midnight mass. By that time I was in advanced minor orders and had been serving for years. My dear friend and mentor Rev. Dr. Owens had a creche set up on the side altar and had us pause after the service and the homily to listen to Silent Night while contemplating the creche scene. After the deconstruction of the nativity stories, to have the myth brought to life like that was wonderful, full of wonder.

Midnight mass has since been the cornerstone of the season for me. The Sundays in Advent leading up to it, and the twelve days of Christmas ending with Epiphany are the foundations of the season. They are not merely rituals that take up a short time, they infuse the entire season with meaning, with spiritual aliveness. They add to everything. In them we encounter the timeless mystery of the Eucharist in the context of the mystery of the transcendent light, the mystery of each individual capacity to redemption, the divine spark of unimaginable potential that can be liberated within us. It is more than just having such ideas, it is seeing them come alive in symbolic form. And in this we can truly see how blessed we are to have had such a teacher and liberator as Christ among us, and to have even what little we do have of his teachings available to us.

In my conjuring up the memory of that mystery, the magic of the season returns to me. Illness may have robbed me of the ability to physically join in the timeless celebration, but the eternal is always now, always present. Even the echoes of memory can call us back to that transcendent joy and eternal gratitude, even when we cannot experience the mystery in its ritual form.

1 comment:

Andrea (Exorcist) said...

Well put Rev. Troy. We were unable to have Christmas Eve mass due to everyone in our small congregation being snowed in. But as you stated, "the eternal is always now, always present". Thank you for the reminder.

In Serenity and Joy