Saturday, December 25, 2010

Viator Xmas et Deus Absconditus

Christmas at the Viator home has been a fun and restful time.  This is the one morning of the year when my kids are up early and trying to get me out of bed.  After exchanging gifts around the Christmas tree, we had a nice ham meal.  Erika played with her new Dell laptop, while Monika took photos with her new camera.  Jessi's black lab puppy kept us entertained.  She insisted on Simon as a name; it’s her pet, so I don’t want to interpose myself too much in the naming process. Simon, though, is a bone fide no-go. I came up with Balthazar, or Balt for short, and to my amazement Jessi likes it. One of the “magi” who allegedly visited the Christ child is named Balthazar, so I guess it’s a fitting name for a Christmas gift. Truth be told, though, I usually name pets after 16th-century German reformers. Balthasar Hubmaier, an Anabaptist theologian, came to mind.

For fun, I pulled up some funny YouTube clips of Mr. Bean and “Stuart” from MADtv, as the five of us relaxed in the family room sifting through our presents.  Later on, the kids played with their new Mario Brothers Wii game and watched Toy Story 1 & 2. Meanwhile, I sat in the dining room to tear into two books I got from my sister and wife respectively: The Devil’s Gentleman, a true crime book by Harold Schechter and Bloodlands, a historical account of Nazi and Soviet policies in the hapless countries of Eastern Europe.

This evening my wife and I saw “The King’s Speech” at an upscale theater house.  We’re both fans of Colin Firth, though I suspect my wife’s interest in the actor is somewhat different than mine. I took the precaution of buying the tickets the day before, for there’s a large audience for these kind of independent historical films in our community. Firth plays Prince Albert, the father of the current queen of England, who became King George VI after his brother Edward abdicated the throne to marry a divorced woman.  At the behest of his wife, Albert, or "Bertie," saw an Australian self-made speech therapist, Lionel Logue, played wonderfully by Geoffrey Rush, to help the prince overcome stammering. The film featured a star-studded cast that in addition to Firth and Rush included no less than Helen Bonham-Carter, Derek Jacobi, Jennifer Ehle, and one of my favorite actors, Guy Pierce.  We thoroughly enjoyed the film, and it could win either Firth or Rush an Oscar. If you’ll allow me a superlative, Firth has played the best Mr. Darcy to date amid an increasing number of movies or television productions of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

Christmas for us is a restful time. Living as an isolated nuclear family far from grandparents, in-laws, and cousins, we don’t deal with traveling to and fro, or with the expectations and (dare I say) hardships of family visits. I suppose previous Christmases have been slightly more eventful in terms of family time. We’ve gone to church, played board games, and watched movies together. This time around it’s as if we’re a conglomeration of solitary creatures engaged in our respective interests and hobbies. Whatever works.  Each family has its own dynamic.

Sadly, or perhaps refreshingly, depending on your Weltanschauung, our Christmas celebrations have become increasingly less a religious occasion—an opportunity to reflect on the birth of Jesus and the salvation of the world through his redemptive sacrifice. I am ever mindful of this development, given my early years devoted to Christian spirituality, theology and liturgy. But there appears to be no turning back. You can’t regain paradise lost. Besides, what I’m calling “paradise,” a particular worldview that finds purpose and meaning in the reflection on and worship of God, might have been nothing more than a chimera; otherwise, I would have never left its pearly gates and safe confines.

You ask Americans nowadays about the meaning of life, and most of them will respond with sweet-sounding words like love, family, and community. I don’t necessarily disagree, but I’ve noticed that God and salvation, tucked away in a manger, have less hold on our heart of heart than they might have had years or decades ago. Nonetheless, perhaps there’s a divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will. Organized religion and its cultural trappings, it would seem, no longer hold sway; yet our happiness in this life might still hinge on a loving Creator whose presence, for whatever reason, seems to elude us and whose providence remains outside our purview.