Dear Christmas Visitor,
I do not know your name. We have only met once. You greeted me warmly at the back of church on Christmas Eve, shook my hand , smiled, and wished me a “Merry Christmas”.
You did not seem to know anyone else in the church. I do not suppose you and I will meet again, at least for another year.
I am glad you dropped in. I consider it a privilege to have welcomed you to worship among us. I hope you had a positive experience in your ninety minute church visit on Christmas Eve.
I am writing to you because I am wondering if you can help me. I wonder if you might be able to help me understand what it was that suddenly stirred you to leave your home late on a dark cold evening, get in your car, and drive to a building you have never entered before to sit in an unfamiliar environment, surrounded by strangers listening to words that are completely foreign to the world we all normally inhabit.
There is certainly no cultural, social, or family pressure that would cause you to make this strange journey on Christmas Eve. There is no obvious material benefit you might anticipate from having attended a church service. We are not the kind of place to which you would be drawn expecting to be entertained by the transcendent beauty of the architecture, or by our King’s College Cambridge music program. It is not the reputation of the preacher that brought you through the doors on Christmas Eve.
We are an ordinary little church. Our life is built around our shared desire to open to the presence of that divine mystery we experience at the heart of all creation. We gather Sunday by Sunday, and for special events like Christmas, because we believe that our humanity is enriched and deepened by taking time to share in a communal experience in which we acknowledge the hidden dimension of existence we call God.
To be honest, I suppose it is not really your unexpected presence that puzzles me, as your complete absence the rest of the year. I understand that, at this Christmas season, there is something deep inside that stirs in the human heart. If we pay attention to that stirring, it can lead us to want to be with other people who acknowledge the same experience in their lives. We hope that our experience of the beauty and mystery of life will be deepened by sharing in a corporate gesture of faith in this invisible reality. We seek to become more responsive to the prompting of mystery by being in a place that honours that mystery and where people seek to live in response to this reality each day of their lives.
But that is what I find puzzling. The stirrings of mystery are not merely an annual event. The beauty of life and love move through each moment of every day. God is equally present at all times of the year. The exercise of opening our hearts to this reality requires regular discipline. The awareness of deep mystery and beauty that drew you to church on Christmas Eve is more profoundly available when we practice regularly the disciplines of attention.
So, why, given the fact that you feel that stirring in your heart once a year, is it evidently absent the rest of the year?
Please, do not take my question as a judgment. I truly do not see myself as a better person because I go to church so often. I am just genuinely puzzled. I long to know what happens in your heart at this Christmas season and why it does not seem to happen during the rest of the year.
Thank you for your consideration of my question and for any wisdom you can shed.