More John Greenleaf Whittier and a Rant

The Mystic’s Christmas
John Greenleaf Whittier, 1807 – 1892

“All hail!” the bells of Christmas rang,
“All hail!” the monks at Christmas sang,
The merry monks who kept with cheer
The gladdest day of all their year.

But still apart, unmoved thereat,
A pious elder brother sat
Silent, in his accustomed place,
With God’s sweet peace upon his face.

“Why sitt’st thou thus?” his brethren cried,
“It is the blessed Christmas-tide;
The Christmas lights are all aglow,
The sacred lilies bud and blow.

“Above our heads the joy-bells ring,
Without the happy children sing,
And all God’s creatures hail the morn
On which the holy Christ was born.

“Rejoice with us; no more rebuke
Our gladness with thy quiet look.”
The gray monk answered, “Keep, I pray,
Even as ye list, the Lord’s birthday.

“Let heathen Yule fires flicker red
Where thronged refectory feasts are spread;
With mystery-play and masque and mime
And wait-songs speed the holy time!

“The blindest faith may haply save;
The Lord accepts the things we have;
And reverence, howsoe’er it strays,
May find at last the shining ways.

“They needs must grope who cannot see,
The blade before the ear must be;
As ye are feeling I have felt,
And where ye dwell I too have dwelt.

“But now, beyond the things of sense,
Beyond occasions and events,
I know, through God’s exceeding grace,
Release from form and time and space.

“I listen, from no mortal tongue,
To hear the song the angels sung;
And wait within myself to know
The Christmas lilies bud and blow.

“The outward symbols disappear
From him whose inward sight is clear;
And small must be the choice of days
To him who fills them all with praise!

“Keep while you need it, brothers mine,
With honest seal your Christmas sign,
But judge not him who every morn
Feels in his heart the Lord Christ born!

I was raised Christian and I liked it. My social life revolved around my church and when the moment came to accept Christ as my personal savior I did it whole-heartedly. But already just a few years later I began to see the problem with the decision I made.

Accepting Christ as a personal savior is not a personal thing. It makes a person the member of a “club.” It sets up an “us vs. them” or “mine is better” reality, and I didn’t want any part of that. I still don’t. My first experience with this was when I was asked to leave my Sunday school class — twice, first for suggesting that evolution was probably true, and the second time for suggesting that Buddhists (or any non-Christian) could know God, too. Then I was thrown out of my youth group at church, and, finally, I had problems at a Baptist summer camp where I was a counselor. I took issue with the leader of the camp who was all about keeping kids indoors and holding revival meetings, and I thought the kids should be taking hikes in the woods, playing games and learning some wilderness skills. The director of the camp was on my side, and the camp leader was reprimanded, but I saw from all this that I didn’t fit in with the Christians around me.

The objection to conforming to usages that have become dead to you is that it scatters your force. It loses your time and blurs the impression of your character. If you maintain a dead church, contribute to a dead Bible-society, vote with a great party either for the government or against it, spread your table like base housekeepers,–under all these screens I have difficulty to detect the precise man you are: and of course so much force is withdrawn from your proper life. But do your work, and I shall know you. Do your work, and you shall reinforce yourself. A man must consider what a blindman’s-buff is this game of conformity. If I know your sect, I anticipate your argument… Emerson, “Self-Reliance.”


Why not? I like Christianity as a philosophy, and I know very well what the New Testament says. It’s beautiful. Living according to that might make a peaceful world until…

Us vs. Them.

Someone has to be “right,” not in the sense of right and wrong, but in the sense of having THE answer. After godnose how many arguments over doctrine with people, I find that absurd because THE answer is all around us. We live in a universe that excludes nothing. We live in the answer. We don’t have to ask anything. Everything we might seek to exclude is here regardless of our beliefs.

I haven’t been a Christian in a very long time. I am really with Goethe when he said, “I’m not un-Christian, I’m not anti-Christian. I’m simply NOT Christian.” Yeah. Exactly.

For me, Christmas this year has been very strange. I’m different as a result, I think, of my new hip and the fact that for the first time in 10 years I haven’t got the relentless awkwardness and pain with which I’ve been struggling. The world is resplendent with new possibilities but also limitations. It’s been a little shocking to experience that the world is going on in its usual way while I try to figure out who I am now and where I’m going. I don’t know. The sweet moments of this season have been exceedingly sweet, but deep down I’m waiting for it to be over so I can get on with winter, cold walks, snow, writing, peace — the exploration of my world as it is now.

16 thoughts on “More John Greenleaf Whittier and a Rant

  1. It does make it a difficult religion to join from some other “space.” Even Garry has essentially deserted, even though he has a bit of remaining belief. It just gets too complicated … and besides, services are far too early 😀

    Whatever you do, do it with joy. Just because. It’s snowing here, a little bit, and it’s very pretty.

  2. Yup. As soon as the dividing starts, it falls apart. Have a good walk. I’m finishing up at the office and hope to get a little outside time myself. Cheers to you, Bear and Dusty.

  3. I’ll admit, I had to force myself to the end of the poem. I’m a real closure junkie, that helps. But, I am strictly non-theistic. So, I tend to skim the more religious posts. But, it being the ubiquitous season, I try to feel that remembered sense of shared experience even as I no longer practice any faith. Family believes and it serves to respect them if not follow them in their views. But, this leaves an agnostic in a very awkward place during the holidays. I’m very glad I did read to the end. I can identify with a lot of the change-of-life, post-hip replacement sense of being out of step (literally in some cases) with the rest of the world. I think learning to walk again means you can’t match your stride to anyone else’s step or path. And that’s okay, even if it is a bit lonely at times.

    Now that’s I’ve pontificated unnecessarily on the topic, my son wants to go for a winter walk. I may pack up some cookies to take to a neighbor while we do this. Those calories need to go somewhere else besides my new-ish hip. I hope you find a walk that suits your mood and stride–and, if you march in a different direction than the path I take, we will be walking together in our hearts.

    • I like Whittier’s poem because it essentially says, “Do your thing. I get it. I’ll do mine.”

      This is so true (and it made me very happy to read) “I think learning to walk again means you can’t match your stride to anyone else’s step or path.” I don’t even match my own (former) stride. This is something else completely and it’s very wonderful.

      Enjoy your walk — I enjoyed mine. Too bad you’re so far away or you could drop some cookies off here. ❤

  4. I’ll be heading out for my own generic winter holiday on the last weekend of the year. I’ll be alone and the wilds will surround me. It will be cold but I will stay warm in my bag, enjoying the cries of the coyotes and the sight of the stars. There may be hot springs in the day to comfort my arthritic bones.

    It is all I need – or have ever needed – to celebrate.

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