Discovering Christmas After Leaving my Faith

 

Ringing through the sky shepard boy
Do you hear what I hear
A song, a song
High above the tree
With a voice as big as the sea
With a voice as big as the sea

 

December 3, 2013

I was born and raised a 5th generation mormon.   My ancestors gave their lives to the faith, crossed the plains pushing hand carts to seek religious freedom, and wrapped their posterity tightly in mormonlore, tradition and fierce faith.  Mormonism is a form of christianity… they worship Christ, and celebrate his birth.  We celebrated with Santa and the reindeer, but gave much weight into Jesus Christ being the Lord, Savior and King.

I remember one year when I was about 15, I innocently asked my close friend why they celebrated Christmas when it was a christian holiday to mark the birth of Jesus Christ, and she was not christian.  She was unable to answer my question, only stammered a bit and I backed off, sensing her discomfort.  This memory bubbles up for me every single year because eight years ago,  my husband and I scooped up our young girls when they were still babies in diapers and walked out of our mormon life.

I have often used the word “uprooted” to help verbalize the action of leaving our faith… and I often still feel the effects of our drastic decision in my every day life.

But.

On sunday, Rick and I drove our girls out to a Christmas tree farm in an adorable neighboring New England town.  We rolled down the window and they gave us a sharp saw and some twine, we drove up to a space in the dirt parking lot, and traipsed into the lot among the Frasier firs and Blue Spruce, picked one out, and cut it down.  An hour later it was sitting in water in our living room.

Not uprooted.

Cut down.

Sometimes, leaving your faith feels like that.

Because the truth is, my roots grew in mormon soil.  They were nurtured by loving stories of a newborn babe who eventually suffered immeasurable pain for me.  My roots tangled themselves around the belief that I must conform tightly to a long list of do’s and be’s in order to find happiness and eternal life…in order to feel Spirit and experience Joy.  I ate a lot of ice cream, green jello, dixie salad, funeral potatoes.  I sang a lot of “I Hope They Call Me on a Mission” and “Follow the Prophet” and “Praise to the Man” and “I am a Child of God.”

I am not sure it is possible to uproot yourself and replant in new ground.  The roots belong wrapped around my ancestors.  It has been a deep and complex struggle to figure out what this means for me.  How I define myself. When we walked out of our mormon faith, I felt as if I stopped existing altogether.  And then, after the shock wore off and I realized it was not a death, but an awakening that left me feeling like an alien in my own body.  It is hard work, to sort out that kind of disorientation.

pine-trees-covered-snow-6701994

Eight years later, I am beginning to understand.  I no longer need to feel cut down,  separated from my roots. Alienated.  I am beginning to see the more beautiful parts of the culture I came from once again, but this time, with my eyes wide open.  I can appreciate how I grew into a compassionate, strong, intelligent, curious, open and sensitive adult… It is no longer necessary to frantically search out the mormon pieces of me to be thrown away.

The Christmas seasons have been the hardest, as the “true” meaning of Christmas, the bible story, seemed like an untrustworthy lie.  A scam.  I struggled to find meaning in the celebration without getting sucked into commercialism.  I have been fighting  to answer my own haunting question I asked more than 20 Christmas’s ago.

Why do you celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ when you are not a Christian?

The answers, swirling within me, are finally settling.  And I know.

Because Christ does not need to be historical fact.  He can be an idea.  A representation of the most powerful source there is.  LOVE.   And I can get behind LOVE, and see all the beauty that springs from it…Joy, Peace, Light, Happiness, Gratitude, Compassion, Grace, Understanding, Mercy…   I do not need to invest my life into anything other than those ideals.  I can find those things in the brilliance of a star, the excitement shining in my little girls’ eyes, the sight of their snowman melting on the lawn.  I can immerse myself in my favorite holiday music, bake the best damn Christmas cookies you ever tasted, drink champagne while turning our home into a place of magic once a year, and let nostalgia take me into my past and feel rooted once again.  Christmas is a practice.  A purposeful rising up, once each year, to get carried away in love.

This Christmas, I can finally honor the roots I grew from, but I can reach for my own sky.

And watch my children do the same.

….Written to participate in the holiday writing advent at http://onetreebohemia.wordpress.com/2013/12/03/3-december-holy-days/

 

5 thoughts on “Discovering Christmas After Leaving my Faith

  1. This is beautiful – so articulate about such a difficult topic. I could well have been your friend!! For much of my childhood, I was one of those who would turn up in church at Christmas and Easter. But then I was in a church choir for several years, but none of the church bit sunk in. I liked the music and I liked my friend with whom I gossiped through every single sermon. In churches, I always feel like I’m a guest in someone’s fancy aunt’s house and I’m worried about leaving smudgy fingerprints on the glass tables or muddy footprints on the carpet. So celebrating Christmas sometimes can feel a bit disingenuous, and yet, it still a meaningful and rich time for me. Not because of church, but because of all the other reasons you describe.

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