Yet another Christmas Day has nearly passed, and realized after some of today’s events, I’ve come to the conclusion I’m a bit of a dinosaur in regards to attending religious gatherings on Christmas Day. Perhaps for me it’s the era from which I was hard coded early-on with things that “felt” like being part of a religious gathering in celebration of the birth of Christ. Since I’d agreed to take a very dear aging relative to a religious service this morning, I found myself somewhat a bit out of touch with the whole event. In having to be seated up front due to the physical impairments of my relative, I managed to get a full view of it all. My take on religious celebrations of late is the attempt of our religious leaders as well as the musicians involved to become “shows” in and of themselves. I keenly watched some of the die hard members reactions to this new age form of largo religioso Christmas. Those seated near me seemed unimpressed with it all, and in fact, I would say they were a bit embarrassed when watching and listening.
When I walked out, I happened to run into one of my clients. I said, “What did you think of the performance?” He sheepishly replied, “Looks like a few of the musicians were making a show of themselves.” All I could say was, “We seem to be distancing ourselves from the solemnity and timeless reverence of the whole Christmas experience.” As far as I’m concerned, there should be no “center stage”, but rather a congregational experience as a whole. There should never be this or that as being what to talk about during Christmas dinner. It must always be the interconnected or wholeness of the experience, or we will be left believing some one or other wanted to be noticed and applauded. Hoopla speeches should be left to the politicians as well as wanna-be musical virtuosos on public stages. Being from another era, I consider it all an affirmation of the “look at me” generation in which we live. While I was seated in our pew this morning, my mind carried me to one of the most moving religious experiences on Christmas Day which I had over 30 years ago while in attendance of a Christmas Mass being held in an all female Cistercian monastery chapel in California. The a cappella music was worthy of a recording as well as the whole solemnity of it all. There were no stages, no hypes, no spotlights, and no wanna be virtuosos. It was all about the community as a whole.
Not but perhaps two months ago I found myself engaged in conversation with an exceptionally talented string instrumentalist whom I’d befriended some years back. I said to him, “The strangest thing occurs sometimes during my limited abilities on the organ while accompanying a singer or two.” “What’s that?” he said. “Well” I said, “It may sound strange to you, but there are times when I can “feel” an energy moving through me, the singers, and the body of the congregation when playing something that seems to charge everyone.” He laughed and said, “You’ve experienced what most symphony orchestras wish for during every performance.” He went on to say, “It’s an energy that’s created when everyone is engaged, and that includes the audience.”
After thinking about that monastery in California, I began considering how difficult it would be to find about 10 acres of land in North Iowa, finding a monastic community willing to create a branch here, getting enough money together, and finding enough charter members to get it up and running. Perhaps there are more of those quiet ones who’re willing to walk away from the “look at me” generation’s form religious gatherings during Christmas and every other Sunday during the liturgical year. There was yet something more for me to think about during my Christmas Day of 2015.