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Wednesday, 24 December - link

The Religions of Google and Geocities

Mom likes to go to church; on Christmas Eve we go with her. There's a late night ceremony at her nearby church; they sing carols, hear a sermon from the smart pastor, and light candles together in the darkness. It's a charming ceremony with tasteful adornments and a healthy dose of Midwestern American Christendom.

Tonight after the service, I was chatting with my stepfather about the religions of the world; he wondered how many Christians, Jews and Muslims there were. According to statistics on Adherents.com, total Christianity leads with 2 billion, but Islam is the fastest growing with 1.3 billion. Judiasm has only 14 million adherents; just a few million below "Juche" which is the state religion of North Korea.

I was talking to a friend tonight who had practiced Subud a little bit - a spiritual tradition I'd never heard of. She described her Subud experience as an almost completely open-ended liturgy-less sharing of the devine in the presence of others. ie, let's sit here and breathe and find god together without words for an hour - dancing, chanting, meditation without prescription. She rather enjoyed it, she reported.

Then I was going some web research on sacred sexuality and I ran into Asatru (Norse Paganism). Reading over the FAQ, I realized two things. One, I'd happily attended a ritual recently that decidedly overlapped with the tenants ascribed to this faith. And secondly, the FAQ quotes the Havamál as "the sayings of the high one." I've been carrying around a W.H. Auden translation of the Havamál on my Treo for the last few weeks, enjoying a few of these rough hewn admonitions from yore.

The sermon on Christmas Eve was excellent - moving words about the Christmas Truce of WWI. Soldiers from opposing sides on the European front spontaineously laying down their arms, electing to exchange gifts and songs on the holiday instead of continuing the slaughter.

My head nodded, a touching moment. The pastor, a fantastic orator, John Buchanan, saw the birth of the baby Jesus in that moment. The mercy of a mother, the crying of a babe; simple human gestures reverberating across a battlefield.

Meanwhile I saw many gestures whirling about the church, peeking out between the lines and symbols. Each time the hymnal said "born is the son" I kept reading "sun" - Christmas falls around the time of the year the sun begins to last longer in the sky (ie, Equinox). We honor the sun, we honor the son.

I get uncomfortable when people insist that their particular spiritual metaphor is the best organizing principle for all humanity. If you look down the long list of populated religions traditions, there's many ways of saying, "let's be aware, let's be kind." Tonight I celebrated a kindly Christian Christmas; last week I celebrated a hearty Winter Solstice. Next week? I'll continue scouring Google and Geocities for my faith.

Posted on 24 December 2003 : 23:58 (TrackBack)
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Justin's Links, by Justin Hall.