As a convert from atheism the lead up to Christmas always reminds me of my first Christmas with faith in Christ. It also reminds me of the odd path and what God used to get my attention in some ways.
Strangely God seems to have used a fouled up class assignment as part of this. As a Freshman in High School I went to the room number of the next class on my schedule only to find that it was the music room for Freshman choir – a class I had not signed up for at all. While I loved music and at the time was a Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young Fanatic along with of course The Beatles the idea of Freshman choir sounded quite boring to me and not the type of music I wanted to sing at all. I was much more comfortable singing CSN songs with my Father’s theatre friends. I informed Mr. Gissel the music teacher of this mistaken class assignment and how I needed to rectify it and he asked m “Why don’t I stay and see whether I liked the class or not.” Well for me this was pretty much like Andrew telling his brother Peter to “Come and see” in the influence it had on me. Mr. Gissel was an almost stereotypical teacher with a bow tie and who lived in “Boring, Oregon.” Almost a Don Knotts lookalike (though he was a childhood friend of Andy Griffith). He was also a very humble man with great gifts as a music teacher and I remained in the choir throughout High School.
While I ended up enjoying all that we sang from a wide variety of music it was the Christmas performance I looked forward to the most. The first year before my voice had changed I sang the solo tenor part in Good King Wenceslas. It was also the traditional Carols singing of Christ’s birth that I so loved even if I had zero idea of what the Incarnation is or even a very basic understanding of the Trinity. All that I knew was that there was a beauty in the music and the lyrics that captivated me. As a young atheist is was the materialistic part of Christmas that I looked forward to the most. The outer trappings of the Christmas season were appealing as participating in a tradition older than you that helped you to generate cozy feelings. Also as a young atheist liberal my deepest theology was “All you need is love” which of course had no definition of Love worth thinking greatly on. I just knew that I loved the old hymns and greatly enjoyed Caroling in the neighborhood.
Christmas for me was also a time for me to use my creativity. I enjoyed hand-crafting ornaments and creating my own bows made of multiple segments of ribbon and the use of a glue gun. In my own creativity I never reflected on my own creator. As a radical environmentalist creation for me was something that had to be saved from man – not something for man. It is no surprise that the emotions artificially generated from a materialistic Christmas never stateside me and as the last gift was opened there could be nothing more. So Christmas for me as always a thing of highs and lows. Anticipation and melancholy.
Christmas of course changed over the years as I got married and we had started a family. I slowly learned that it truly was more blessed to give than to receive – though I also had no idea where that quote came from. Christmas for me had reached the Hallmark Channel “It is all about family” to me. An understanding on which I thought sufficient. The music of Christmas was also always a constant companion to me. I still so loved hearing those hymns and singing along with them in the car. You could always rely on picking up some secular station that played Christmas music.
Though over the years less and less secular stations would play Christmas Carols or if they did it was for a limited time and mainly of the “Jingle Bells” variety. While I also like the secular hymns that speak of Winter and the atmosphere of Christmas they do not hold a candle to me compared to the beauty of the traditional Carols that sang of the birth of Jesus. Unfortunately it was becoming harder and harder to the music I so loved in the bands of the radio I went searching for it.
1996 was the year I left the behind the dregs of my directionless deism. The deism that I had floundered in when I lost my faith in atheism. Searching through the radio the only Christmas music I could find that I liked was on the dreaded Christian radio stations. While I had grown to more and more to admire committed Christians actually listening to what they had to say was another story. Deism is a sort of no-mans land, but not a no-Gods land. I didn’t want to be lead to Christianity because of a cultural preference for it. I wanted to know the truth, but did not know what tools I could use to determine the truth about God. At that point I saw philosophy only as a way to deny something you are plainly able to see. I was unaware that the philosophy I was aware of was of the sort infected by relativism and skepticism.
So I took the plunge and started to listen to Protestant Christian radio to be able to hear the music I so loved to hear and sing. I put up with the interruptions to the music about Christ when they actually talked about Christ and why he came into the world. These annoying interruptions of preaching and reading from Scripture soon came less and less annoying. I became eager to hear more and more about Christ and to really hear the scriptures for the first time. Sure I had my abortive attempt to read the Bible as a deist started from beginning to end without going much further than the Book of Numbers. Sola Scriptura from the perspective of an atheist turned deist just doesn’t work. I had no traditions, even Protestant, one from which to interpret scripture. Through Protestant Radio I first heard scripture via a tradition that interpreted it and presented it in a understandable way.
This was the very beginning of an actual faith in Christ though it would be over three years later until my journey ended (and started) in the Catholic Church. I still had some years to devour as much as I could get in the library from the Protestant and Catholic sources. I just now reflect on the providence of the mess-up school schedule that in some ways brought me to faith. My aesthetic love for the music finally lead me to an actual love of Christ. I have written about other aspects of my conversion story, but I really see this as one of the larger threads in it.
Plus as a Catholic I get the bonus of being able to listen to Christmas Music up to the Epiphany! I no longer have that after opening the gifts melancholy, because now I have a gift I can never exhaust – the gift of faith. Thank you Mr. Gissel for your version of “Come and see.”
So whether your are a fan of my blog, a casual reader, or one of my blessed trolls – I wish you all a blessed and Merry Christmas and that the joy of the Incarnation will fill your heart. A special shout out to my fellow bloggers, podcasters, and everyone writing about, defending, and preaching the Catholic faith for all they have taught me.