‘Twas the night before Christmas Eve

There’s something holy about candles. I don’t know quite what it is, but when I light them, I always feel like I should say a prayer or take a moment of silence to remember someone important in my life. It was the presence of candles in that cathedral in Florence that drew me into the fold of the mass I accidentally ended up in. To this day, I look at that moment as an awakening of spirituality, a stirring of communion with ancient civilizations that breathed life before me.

Maybe it’s because candles remove the distractions of the modern world, bringing us back to a time when electricity didn’t hum in the walls of our homes, when light didn’t come instantly at the flick of a switch. Simple, yet complex. Two stones when rubbed can make a spark, but it takes a lot more work to produce a flame if you don’t have a set of matches. One flame from a candle produces a lot of heat. The light dances, unsteady. You can stare into it and watch its irregular gyrations. Hypnotizing. When I tinker with meditation, I like to use a candle’s flame as my concentration point. If you watch long enough, you can clear your mind. Listen.

Since the day at the cathedral, I’ve been seeking that feeling of spiritual “warmth,” I’d guess you’d call it. I’ve felt it at moments here — especially at the UU church — but I’ve not connected back up with whatever feeling that I encountered there. It was like standing at the top of a big hill and I saw the whole of everything below me. A moment of clarity, an invitation to life that I accepted gratefully. Perhaps just tradition of the ages, ghosts of all our ancestors, singing from the walls of the ancient land I was standing on. No, not singing, chanting. A language similar to the Italian reverberating from the walls, a language that died with the crumbling ruins of the Roman Empire.

The holidays make me sentimental. Christmas makes me feel Christian. And removes my shame in feeling Christian. Maybe I should go read the first few chapters of the Gospel of Luke in the light of candles and my Christmas tree. I wanted to buy an Advent wreath, but my shame prevented me from getting one. A leopard doesn’t change its spots to stripes. At least not over night. My shame will probably keep me from reading those chapters in Luke. I’ll feel weird. And I’m too antsy besides. My brain is spinning in one of those moods I get in when I’m too excited to sleep. I want to do everything all at once and nothing at all. Just drink in the strangeness of this wild windy night that finally released some snow. As if Christmas can’t pass without the snow. White Christmas.

It’s been five hours since I put that coat of polyurethane on my bay window and the molding around my back patio door. According to the instructions on the can, I can now proceed to sand the excess polyurethane and apply the second coat. I am wondering if I should do that in my moment of wakefulness. It only took me about an hour and a half to put on the first coat. Then I’d be done and something useful would be accomplished this weekend before I slipped into the craziness of holiday celebration. Yet, I need to wake up early tomorrow morning, for my celebrations begin right away.

It’s nice to have the day to myself, though. One day of the four-day relief from work in which I can just think to myself without pressure and without all the trappings of social pleasantries. I like being around people, but some days I just need decompression. Some time with my cats on the couch, watching TV. Right now, I’m trying to finish season two of Babylon 5, which I’d — shocking, I know — never seen before. It’s really a good series and I seriously think that the religious cast of the Minbari culture — most particularly, Ambassador Delenn — is rubbing off on me. I think I know why my friend Kim considers this ambassador her favorite character. Somehow watching B5 doesn’t seem so strange a thing to do on the night before the night before Christmas.

I’m such a cream puff, too. I just watched the episode where the Narn surrender to the Centauri at the battle of the Narn homeworld and tears actually came to my eyes during the scene in which Londo lays down the law to G’Kar in the Council of Aligned Worlds. Damn, that’s good writing if it gets you emotional about a complete piece of fiction. I yearn to write like that, to make people believe in characters I’ve created.

The great thing about this series is that there’s so many layers to it. At the very base of it is my favorite theme of the struggle of good versus evil. In this case, there’s an ancient race called the Shadows who are, it seems, quite evil (without a clear reason as to why… does evil exist simply to be evil?). The Shadows are manipulating the races involved in the series, appealing to their brasher sides.

Dammit, I just read something off wikipedia.org that pulled a spoiler on me… I just learned that the Vorlan — this ancient race whose ambassador you see only in an environmental suit throughout the series I’ve watched so far — appeared to humans as angels. Crap. I guess that is what Kosh meant in the other episode I viewed today… Sheridan asked him why he couldn’t show his true form and Kosh replied that everyone would recognize him. (I guess every species would see him in a similar capacity as this older race has visited younger ones throughout their history.)

Which only reminds me of a friend’s theory about the ending of Battlestar Galactica, in which he theorizes the humans will finally get to Earth and that Gaius Baltar — the disgusting, creepy and most selfish character on the show — will become Jesus in our history. A gross, yet slightly tantalizing, interpretation of history, to say the least. What a dark spin on history. It’s kind of ironically funny from a fiction standpoint; kind of depressing if you want to contemplate that kind of thing could be true.

I’m left to ponder why we’re always looking for simple explanations to everything. I guess we know ourselves too well and our capacity to tell a tall story where legend is involved. Seems there’s a lot of writing going on trying to solve the mystery of religion in more “realistic” terms. Trying to pull the strings and untie the knot. I admit that I do it myself. I have several of my own theories about Jesus being an alien. The “star” announcing his birth could have been a space ship (everyone was able to follow it — have you ever tried to follow a star to an exact location?). The miracles were advanced technology (imagine how many things we do daily would appear like miracles to people of that time). The transfiguration was an encounter with the mother ship (wasn’t there light and then Moses and Abraham or someone appeared?).

Not convinced? Well, neither am I, really. It’s just one of those crazy thoughts that come to mind in my study of the Bible. My amusement as a sci-fi geek. But consider my background. To me, everything is a story to be scrutinized and taken with a grain of salt. I have trouble trusting anything written on paper. Which is funny, since I’m so blunt and true to myself when I write. Yet, I know that everything I write is tainted by my own point-of-view — my race, gender, political leanings, cultural understanding of the world. I can’t write anything pure and I can’t expect you to believe that anything I say is true (though, really, it is… from, as Obi-Wan Kenobi would say, “a certain point of view.”). No human can. There’s usually just all sides of the story and then there’s the Truth. But the Truth is always hard to find amidst all the tainted words that surround it.

It’s hard to be a skeptical person. You scarcely trust anything. History is in the hands of the writers, though, and when you realize how fallible we are as record-keepers, you just can’t avoid being skeptical. At least, I can’t. Too many questions fill my head. Blind faith has never been my forte. I trust what my own senses present to me. Which, ironically, is why I do have some faith in some great force undefinable. It’s not blind and it’s certainly not unquestioningly. But yet it’s there.

There’s sanctity in silence, in watching the flames of a candle burning bright. Fire, the stuff of stars (though different than the fire in the candle). In A Short History of Nearly Everything, a well-written book for dummies explaining the tougher theories of science and physics, author Bill Bryson states about the creation of the universe:

What is extraordinary from our point of view is how well it turned out for us. If the universe had formed just a tiny bit differently–if gravity were fractionally stronger or weaker, if the expansion had proceeded just a little more slowly or swiftly–then there might never have been stable elements that make you and me and the ground we stand on. Had gravity been a trifle stronger, the universe itself might have collapsed like a badly erected tent, without precisely the right values to give it the right dimensions and density and component parts. Had it been weaker, however, nothing would have coalesced. The universe would have remained forever a dull, scattered void.

I find religion–or maybe God, but I’m always afraid, ashamed to use that name–in these sort of impossibilities. There’s a point where religion and science are one and it’s at this point where I find my faith. It’s where you ask yourself if all the life we know is a happy coincidence or something far more extraordinary.

Okay, I know what you’re thinking. After just stating that I can’t read anything without skepticism, I just quoted a passage from a book. It’s simply what I’m reading at this moment. Tomorrow, I may feel inspired to read The Gnostic Bible again, or the regular Bible, or this book I got about the nature of the universe by the Dali Lama. I’m taking it all in, viewing the story from all sides. The more you know, it seems, the more the nature of the universe unfolds before you. The more of the universe I see, the more my god is revealed–my faith, my religion, my love of life. Somehow, in the generic theology of my late-night musings, I find peace in the mystery of that which I can’t possibly understand but am so curious to explore.

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