Perhaps it was a warning sign and I missed it. The grinch took strong hold of my heart yesterday and wouldn't let go. Christmas? Nah, no thanks. I wanted nothing to do with it. This would be the first Christmas that I--I who believed in Santa Claus long after it was cool to do so--would eschew Christmas and all its surrounding hoopla.
I wrapped presents angrily, cursing the fact that I'm no better at gift-wrapping now than I was at the age of seven, and trod all over the house allowing my own personal rain cloud to trail after.
Then, miraculously, a shift began to take place. For this I credit the following three things:
1. insta-glamour in retractable form: my holiday lipstick, "party red"
2. our Christmas Eve tradition: a dinner of nothing but appetizers (and a Christmas miracle--i found the one thing in the kitchen that i'm skilled at making: i can make a cocktail sauce that will make you see the face of God)
3. the movie Love Actually. talk of the film forced my brother and me to rush out and get it and two minutes into the thing i was donning metaphorical bells and whistles and ready to package myself as a Christmas wreath.
Ahhh, relief. After all, midnight mass on Christmas Eve is my favorite event of the year and I did not want to suck the joy out of that.
I've said it before and I'll say it again, I'm not the most religious of people. But I was raised a good Catholic girl. And believe it or not I take a tremendous amount of pride in this. We went to church, as a family, every Sunday. On Wednesdays I would head to CCE classes. I was taught to dress appropriately to enter a place of worship, even if it moonlit as a school cafeteria the other six days of the week. And I was taught that you waited to exit until after the priest had left. And I abided this, despite the two small quarters in my tiny fist pulling me toward the rec room and the promise of doughnuts.
There are things I disagree with about the church. About organized religion in general. But making the sign of the cross feels more like home than anything else I know. The thing is...being Catholic isn't just something I practice (or don't)...it's who I am. I feel it in my bones. It's part of the reason I so love Pat Conroy: he writes from a Southern, Catholic perspective and innately I understand that.
I'll never forget the day I sat in church and the priest said the reason we read the Bible again, and again, the same passages over and over is because the Bible is not the literal word of God, it is something that is meant to be studied and interpreted. The Bible was not written by God, but by men--flawed men struggling to survive in a difficult, burgeoning world--men who were attempting to build empires. And therein lies the true gift of the Holy Spirit--the Holy Spirit which represents the ability of the church to change and grow and adapt to a world very different from the time when the Bible was put down on paper. The Holy Spirit is in each of us, meaning God is in each of us, and hence there are times when the best we can do is listen to our heart. Because sometimes what we know in our bones, in our heart, trumps anything we could read, even if it is the Bible we're reading.
I never feel the Spirit more strongly than Christmas Eve mass. 11 pm. The witching hour. We return to my brother's high school where we gather in the auditorium and sit amidst friends, family members, complete strangers. And in that one hour I feel and see everything. I can literally taste love.
Last night the sermon was about just that: love. The gift of love. Nothing asked of in return. A father's love. Heavenly Father. And as many time's as I've heard that phrase, child of God, last night was the first time I really heard it. God doesn't love us as a ruler, an overseer, he loves us as a father--a parent.
And so (since this post has gone on entirely too long) Merry Christmas. Here's to celebrating family (spiritual and otherwise) and love that transcends understanding and religious devisions.