Friday, November 18, 2005

Wishing Jesus happy birthday

I've mentioned before that I still don't really "feel" God's presence. I've never felt like I have any sort of relationship with any higher power so I'm not even sure what that's supposed to feel like. I have a hard time keeping my inner skeptic at bay when I'm trying to pray or contemplate God. That voice that says, "You're talking to yourself" when I try to pray and "Are you really this easily brainwashed?!" when I agree with what I read in a C.S. Lewis book tends to be very mouthy.

In order to put that voice on mute and keep myself focused I often find myself clinging to a little bit of information that came from the most unlikely of places. When I was around 11 years old my dad, who is a hard-line atheist and vocally anti-religion, was playing with some astronomy software on his computer and thought that he might have figured out Jesus' actual birthday (he does believe that Jesus the person existed). I recently asked him to summarize his logic for this in an email:

It's unlikely that it was in December for a number of reasons, not the least of which is it's winter in the middle east and was probably cold as hell.

The three wise men were almost certainly familiar with astronomy (or, really, astrology). They would have been attracted by some sort of sign that was an astronomical phenomenon. It was not a supernova. None of the advanced societies of the day recorded one. Not a comet. Comets were harbingers of evil and doom. On April 6, 06 BC, just before the sunrise, Venus, Mercury, Saturn and Jupiter all rose in a single file slanted line over the horizon. This would have attracted the notice of astronomers, and was in the Spring when it was more likely that shepherds were in the fields. I think this would also work with when historians believe the Census of Quirinius took place.

When my dad first proposed this all those years ago I didn't know exactly who Jesus was, I thought of him as sort of a Tooth Fairy kind of guardian figure, but I did know that he played some big part in many people's lives. I was still young enough that I didn't realize that my parents could be wrong about anything, so after hearing this I decided that I knew Jesus' real birthday, and that I was possibly the only person in the whole world who knew it.

When I would go to church with my friends or hear them talking about "knowing" Jesus I would think to myself that I knew him too. In my child's world, where birthdays are some of the most exciting days of your life, I felt like it might make Jesus happy that someone down here knows his real birthday. I thought that maybe I was even special to him because I would think of him on April 6 and wish him a happy birthday.

As an adult I've never bothered to research the accuracy of this theory. I don't really care if it's true or not. It provided me with a vague feeling of closeness to Jesus that I still reference today, a feeling that is the closest I've ever come to feeling God's presence. It's a long, long way from where I need to be, but it's a start.



At November 19, 2005 12:27 PM, Anonymous David said...

Our All About Christmas page tackles this a bit. Check out the links at the bottom, particularly "Calculating Christmas" by William Tighe.

The reason December 25 was chosen had to do with Jewish notions of great people being conceived on the day of their death. Some early Christians believed that Jesus died on March 25th (check out All About the Feast of the Annunciation). 9 months later you get December 25th. Also, there was a belief that the Jewish messiah would be conceived during Passover, and the Rabbis had set Macrh 25 as a kind of fixed, average date for passover. 9 months later you have December 25. While these are both theories, they do make sense to me.

Also Christmas is more about celebrating a reality (the incarnation) than about historical factoids per se. Neither I, the Church, nor your dad knows exactly when Jesus was born, but we still celebrate it on December 25.

Check out the article by Tighe. It is interesting.

At November 19, 2005 8:04 PM, Anonymous SteveG said...

David, think you kinda missed the point. ;-)

Jennifer, beautiful story, and I think it's a fine place to start. God can work with the humblest, simplest tools to get the job done. After all, he used a poor maiden from 1st century Palestine as a tool to shake the very foundations of history.

And don't be at all bothered that in fact sometimes you may be indeed 'takling to yourself' when you prayer. There is no doubt in my mind that much of the time, instead of praying to God, I am in fact praying to a mental projection of myself. The good news is that either way, God is listening, He knows our intent, and again will use the meager tools we give him to flame into a roaring fire, even the most meager of embers that we offer.

You are doing just grand! God Bless.

P.S. I am still waiting to hear how the second attempt at mass went? The suspense is killing me! ;-)

At November 19, 2005 9:49 PM, Anonymous David said...

I should have mentioned that I was offering some thoughts about the Christmas theory, something that is a stumbling block for some. I know that wasn't the point of the post, and I should have made that clear.

I agree with Steve about this post. It was touching to read. I don't always "feel" God's presence either. In fact, I wish I could somehow feel him more. I view it like any other relationship I have. There will be days when I feel closer than others.

Maybe "feel" is not a helpful way to look at. Perhaps, "knowing" God is a better way to look at it, since "feel," at least to me, has strong emotional connotations. Perhaps you are growing closer to God, knowing him in ways you can't yet identify, even if you can't feel him per se. I am just throwing out the thoughts I have when I don't experience God the way I think I should. May God continue to bless you on your journey, and I too am looking forward to your next post on your worship experiences.

At November 19, 2005 9:51 PM, Anonymous SteveG said...


Thanks for clarifying. Makes sense, and I agree with you comments 100%.

At November 21, 2005 7:55 PM, Blogger Colleen said...

Funny thing, I was just thinking about prayer, as I was driving home tonight.

It has been rare in my Christian life that I have felt somehow different, while praying. It would be nice, I suppose, but I think the kind of mental concentration that keeps other thoughts from interrupting is reserved for those who have practiced for a long time.

What I think happens (even for this less-than-saint) is that praying makes me focus on God. It is the time when I examine myself (why did I sin? how could I have handled the situation better?etc.), confess my sins and then I tell God what I am thankful for. That always leads me to think about the world we live in, my place in it and all sorts of what I like to believe are profound thoughts. In turn, that always makes me think of those in need and I remember them before God.

In all of this, nothing magical or mystical happens to me. But I think I come out of it strengthened to do better tomorrow. By praying for others, I am accepting a gift from God; he is allowing me to share a little of his burden and love for others. I get to rejoice with them, when the outcome is good and I am blessed to share their sorrow, in some little measure, if the outcome isn't what we prayed for. I do believe that this is a gift.

You may feel less strange if you pray silently (just don't fall asleep, if you wait til bed time) or just talk under your breath so to speak. Praying aloud is better for set prayers and groups, (Church or with friends and family) anyways. Or so I like to think.

At November 22, 2005 12:04 PM, Anonymous SteveG said...

I couldn't agree more with Colleen's comments. The whole presence of God experience or ‘touching the divine’ is something that is extremely rare in the life of most believers. It’s nearly axiomatic in the life of the religious person that God’s true presence is more often experienced as the ‘small, still voice’ of peace and hope in our life than the sensing of a powerful presence.

I fear that the more emotive form of worship which is found in Protestantism, and thus in the American religious discourse, is so prevalent that we may again be seeing an unintended coloring of your expectations. That expectation is that we are supposed to feel a certain way. The scary thing about building our insight using such a paradigm is that we all know that we can manufacture such emotional responses, and that makes people of an intellectual bent (such as yourself) somewhat hesitant in embracing them, and less trusting of them if and when they come.

I can count on one hand the number of times when I've been in prayer wherein when I was finished, I was like 'Wow! That was something special.’, and I’ve been at it a while. And even at that, as Colleen mentioned, it wasn't anything mystical, or magical.

It was rather a deep, abiding quietness, and peace. It was a sense of living outside of time because one is so focused on God, and the present moment, that the rest of ‘reality’ is forgotten and all that remains is the overriding sense of the love of God.

But those moments came only after prolonged and repeated efforts. And they came only after struggling through hundreds of more instances where I was utterly distracted in prayer, where I had to keep plugging away despite my inadequacy at the job, and when I had a LOT of time to keep trying at it with total focus. This only happened in essence when ‘all the stars lined up just so’. In other words, It has almost never happened since I’ve had children. ;-)

Yet, I keep trying to steal moments of prayer here and there. They are no longer quiet because my house is no longer quiet due to the laughter, crying, singing, and whining of my kids. It’s no longer focused, because I always have a sweet little munchkin following me around the house wherever I go pulling at my attention and focus. It’s no longer prolonged since if I can get even 5 minutes to myself to use the can I am actually pleasantly surprised. ;-)

And yet…I can sense God’s presence in the peace, hope and love that are mostly present in my life amidst the blessed, wonderful, and trying chaos of family life.

I can sense God’s presence in my meager efforts to turn the other cheek when my wife gives me an undeserved harsh word after she’s had a really tough day with the kids, and instead of escalating things, I give kindness in place of retaliation.

I can sense God’s presence in the fact that he’s given me these blessed little people who are so in love with me that if I try to move to another part of the house they feel drawn to ME and want to be close to ME (as undeserving as I am).

I can sense God’s presence in the fact that despite all my failures, and despite rarely having those more ‘profound’ moments of his presence, He knows I am at least trying. Not always trying my best, but always trying to try my best.

While that might seem mundane to some, and while it might not be the equivalent of being seized by emotion and hollering ‘Alleluia, Praise God!’, I know for sure I am in His presence when I am among family, and friends (even on the web) with whom I can share a bond of love.

I feel his presence now, as I type these words in hopes that our experience here will draw all of us closer to God. It’s not a shout; and it’s not accompanied by fireworks. In fact it’s so quiet that if I am not careful, I can just mindlessly type these words in hopes of ‘evangilizing’ you and miss it altogether.

But if I pause just a moment……………..there! I sense it in the progress you’ve made on the journey. I sense it in the goodness all your posts and the commenters here have helped me to achieve in my own life. I sense it in the hope that overwhelms me that people like you who struggle through every obstacle to come to faith make me believe that there is hope even for me to become something better than what I am.

I’ll finish by mentioning the title of a little book by a monk (Brother Lawrence) written in the 1600’s called ‘The Practice Of The Presence Of God ’ (it’s online here. The title seems to me to sum up what I am trying to get at. It’s in our actions, in our ‘practicing’ at recognizing God’s presence that we make his presence a reality in our lives. And the word practice indicates that indeed, this doesn’t come in a flash, or without effort, but with continually setting our shoulders to the plow and pushing forward.

At May 19, 2010 8:11 AM, Blogger Hans-Georg Lundahl said...

That voice that says, "You're talking to yourself" when I try to pray and "Are you really this easily brainwashed?!" when I agree with what I read in a C.S. Lewis book tends to be very mouthy.

As if that were somehow not talking to oneself ... at least you did not finally brainwash yourself out of Christianity.


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