On one of the earlier threads there was some disagreement over the true meaning of certain scriptural passages. (I must be kidding, right? Here?) It seemed like we kept going around and around and around. I was suddenly reminded of another issue that keeps me going around and around and around; Christmas.
I’ve always loved this time of year, I probably even loved it more when I didn’t have a faith (but that’s another story). But I am not too crazy about getting all the kitsch down from the attic, setting them up and then having to clean it all up in January. I especially don’t like having to trim the tree. It is a lot of work.
I used to spend a considerable amount of time making sure that every single strand of tiny lights was evenly distributed on each branch, like my father had taught me. Soon enough I learned how to stand about six feet away and toss the lights on like a fisherman casting his net. What a time saver.
I’ve always preferred the little tasteful white lights, like the ones we had growing up in my house. Bev, though, hails from a tradition that celebrated with gaudy multi-colored lights. She was raised Lutheran and I Catholic. In the ecumenical spirit we agreed to blend both types of lights and 25 years later I can’t even imagine of not having it both ways.
Some people accuse me of wanting to have it ‘both ways’ when it comes to how I relate to God. I can see value in most faith traditions and I hesitate to say if someone is not with God even though they may respond to him differently than I do. I consider myself a Christian but many have challenged me on this. Apparently some think that it is impossible to hold a more tolerant point of view and still maintain a faith in Jesus.
Usually our arguments will boil down to the essence of where we disagree – Holy Scripture. Someone may place more emphasis on a certain verse than I do. I might be inspired by something completely different. With both of us concentrating on what we each hold most dear, we end up stalled and (at best) agreeing to disagree. But that can be so unsatisfying.
But back to the tree. Typically, when we decorate ours, each family member devotes his or her efforts to their specific parts of the tree. When the children were
small they concentrated on the low hanging branches while I would be teetering on the stool near the tree top as my wife would finessed the all important mid-section. Even then, some would stray more towards one side of the tree over the other. Many times the kids would hang balls or ornaments in the ‘wrong’ places, out near the ends of the branches where they sagged (or too far inside where they could hardly be seen). This would drive me nuts but over time I learned to bite my tongue, for the sake of family harmony.
When all was hung, when the boxes were empty, we would take a few steps back to review our handiwork. After a few moments Bev would say, “Well? Does it pass the squint test?”. To my surprise, it always did.
Standing in close to the tree all I can see are the individual ornaments of different shapes, colors and sizes and where each are placed. The occasional broken branches and bare spots are starkly visible. I am painfully aware of the ‘mistakes’ of my children. Though these mistakes cried out to me for fixing, in order to make ‘more sense’, I eventually learned to accept their places in the overall scheme of things.
But when I move back a bit, taking in the whole tree and, perhaps softening my focus just a little, I make out the image of a beautiful, bright and colorful Christmas tree. All the intricate and and glistening ornaments, each of them with their own story of Christmases past, work together to create this wonderful creation. Even those deep and dark recesses where the lights do not reach suggest mysterious areas worthy of future discovery.
Our family’s joint venture speaks in a slightly different tone of voice to each person that meets it, evoking memories and feelings that cannot always be expressed. The ‘imperfect’ yet natural shape, the ‘inaccurate’ placement of the balls, the ornaments that range from big and shiny to small and fragile – each element works together to present a perfect whole. A bit different every time, though each observer will agree that the overall shape is always the same, and the spirit that this shape evokes is shared by all.