Issue #77 / December 2019
What is your feeling about Christmas?
TIM, FRANKFURT, GERMANY
How do you celebrate Christmas?
JOSHUA, BERLIN, GERMANY
I read today that when a photon is born in the Sun, it take it 1,000,000 years to come to the Sun’s surface (it’s colliding with other particles and constantly changes its direction). And then a further few minutes to reach the Earth. Something that is so ordinary as the sunlight appears to have its own, very ancient history. “We are photons released from a dying star”. It’s so great we’ve got the chance to take part in this cosmic spectacle and that we can consciously contemplate it, don’t you think?
M, WARSAW, POLAND
Dear Tim, Joshua and M,
Christmas to me is the remnant of an evaporating culture to which I once belonged. I am not a Christian, yet I am attached to its culture, personally, nostalgically and sentimentally. It is not the only culture available, there are others, equally valid or invalid, both religious and secular. But, for me, as someone who grew up in an Anglican home, sang in the cathedral choir, and has an enduring fascination with the Christian scriptures, the Christian story, in all its quaintness and implausibility, holds great meaning. Christ continues to move through my imagination, a vaporous ghost beckoning from the shadows, and his story affects me deeply. Jesus is an absurdity that rises eerily from my yearning for spiritual comfort, within a cosmos I cannot begin to understand.
And M, I can’t agree with you more. The fascination of the universe is a wonder so monumental that we are left dizzy with awe as we attempt to contemplate it. Infinity lives on the far side of language, touching only the fringes of our understanding, and I admire those who devote their lives to the investigation of this impossibility.
As stars are born and die, the phenomena of suffering and love are projected onto Earth to play out in the seeming inconsequentiality of our human lives. We are the broken metaphors of a cosmos that is beyond our comprehension.
Christ is a symbol of our imperfect and limited attempt at understanding eternity, and addresses the vulnerability of humanity itself. Perhaps we should not look at the Christian story as a symbol of our naivety or ignorance, but instead cherish it as our attempt to comprehend the incomprehensible.
So, Tim and Joshua, as Christianity retreats back into the churches and cathedrals, as all conspicuous notions of Christ fade from our culture, and Christmas becomes the sole province of a roly-poly man in a Coca-Cola red suit (whose days may also be numbered) I will visit a church this Christmas; I will kneel before the fading vestiges of an outmoded idea called spiritual transcendence and our beautiful and moving attempt to humanise the ecstatic cosmic drama, and I will pray.