01 May 2012

THT: Santa Claus's Greatest Gift - Bliss

I believed in Santa Clause through most of my elementary school life. It's true. I had no reason to suspect the jolly old man wasn't real. In fact, I felt I had pretty good evidence that he existed. I'd wake up Christmas morning and clearly, he had taken bites out of the cookies and snacks I left out. I could have sworn I heard him on the roof and in the house. Songs spoke of kids all over the world who had caught glimpses of that plump old man. This was clear evidence to me that, indeed Santa was real.

Sometimes I had a challenging thought. For instance, I didn't have a fireplace in my childhood home. Well, while Santa clearly prefers entrance by way of chimney, he is full of magic. A lack of fireplace would be no match for the powers Santa had at his fingertips. He was all-powerful! And never would I want to be awake when he came... perhaps he'd pass by my house if I was up and about!

Oh the joy of those nights where sleep came slowly and the mornings began with an early rush of excitement and anticipation. Even as an adult I look back on those years with fondness and sometimes catch myself wishing that for a moment, I could believe again. It was so magical.


My roommate and I had a discussion about an experience he had while talking with a couple of LDS guys. One was about to go on a mission, and one had just returned home. He related to me how he felt somewhat envious of them. He knew what it was like being in their shoes. The world was so clear. Their life was so clearly constructed. The RM would go on to find a wife and have a family, raise them in the same belief system where they'd all go on happily believing they would all be together in the end. Joyfully ignorant of any other possibility.

The soon to be missionary was beaming with joy and affirmation as family and friends rallied around him and his brave commitment to serve the God of all goodness and creation regardless of the challenges the next two years might bring. The world he knew lifted him onto his chariot of righteousness that would begin a path that was undeniably good. Never could he imagine a more good way to sacrifice his time. This was what he had always dreamed of becoming. Like his heros in Sunday School, he was about to embark on a journey so noble, it would be worthy of filling volumes of holy writ.

I identified with my roommate's experience. There have been several times where I have had a passing wish that I could just believe again. It was so much easier to have answers to everything. My mind didn't have to be bothered by questions. What I knew made up the world in its entirety. Outside tumoil need never to disrupt my bliss. All I needed to do was re-affirm to myself that it was I who had the truth, which I did at church every week.

Living in reality is quite a bit different. Never would I assume that I know everything there is so know. Never would I imagine that I had already learned the most important knowledge I could gain. Life is full of questions and possibilities. There is no map where my life is clearly marked. But, just as no sound adult could force themselves to again believe in Santa Clause, I cannot force myself to believe again in Mormonism (and perhaps even God?).

"But how can you deny what you have experienced in your lifetime? How can you disregard the clear hand of God in your life?"

Well, how can you deny the moments in childhood where you swear you heard Santa. How about all the "evidence" your childhood mind had found to affirm the reality of that magical gift-giving man? You see, once we are conscious of the fact that we perpetuated our own belief by ascribing meaning to things that we accepted as "evidence" for Santa, we can no longer ignore the plain truth.

Clearly, my parents took bites from the treats I left out. The sounds I heard, were sounds I may have heard on any night, but I was listening for the purpose of affirming my belief.

Did it feel good to believe in Santa? I'd say so! That kind of excitement and anticipation will never be matched. Does that make it true. No. And I for one value truth.

You see, while I no longer have a clear construct of the world and cosmos in my mind, the infinite possibilities that I am no open to have added a new depth to life. The world is out there to discover. It is an adventure I've embarked on that has no timeline or map. I don't know where it will take me- and that is quite exciting.

And though there are times when I miss the quite days of bliss, I could never consciously choose ignorance and be happy... or even sane.


LCannon said...

I'll be fifty pretty soon. I still believe in Santa. He does not always go by that name. Miracles happen everyday - sometimes through other people. Miracles don't require magic.

jimf said...

> I believed in Santa Clause through most of my elementary school life.

That's sweet. It reminds me of the elaborate Christmas game that author J. R. R. Tolkien played for years with his four children, and which resulted in the posthumously-published _Letters From Father Christmas_

This is described by the oldest and youngest Tolkien sons in a 1996 BBC documentary available on YouTube:
The Life of J R R Tolkien Part 4 of 12


Judi Dench: J. R. R. Tolkien was also a talented artist, and every December, he combined this with his gift for storytelling. In 1920, when [oldest son] John was three years old, Tolkien had written a note to his son in shaky handwriting signed 'Father Christmas'. From then on, he produced letters every Christmas, to his children's great delight.

Rev. John Tolkien: They used to come either by post -- with the postman, because he bribed the postman to put them through the door with the post -- or if they were a bit late they were on the mat in front of the stove in the dining room, and there would be snowy footmarks across the floor. We never discovered for a long time, never suspected that they were him, until one night -- we used to hang our big stockings on the bottom of the bed -- and one night -- Michael and I had a room together -- and the door opened -- we hadn't gone to sleep -- and he stubbed his foot on the door, and said **blast** in only the way he could say it, and we knew who it was, but we hid under the blankets so as not to let him know that we knew, and we never let on to anybody that we knew 'til years afterward.

Christopher Tolkien: He was **extremely** clever in making the whole Father Christmas business totally credible to young children. There was the thing of the postman bringing the letters to the door with the 'North Pole' stamps on them, and the whole way in which we put letters on the fire, and in the earlier part of the year, say in October, they wouldn't go for weeks, and then **suddenly** they would go. And we were, at that stage of our lives, deeply convinced in the reality of this. **Deeply** convinced. Of course one was more interested in the presents, in a way, whereas you can see from his letters that there was beginning to be a new Secondary World. There was a sense in which nonetheless we were actually drawn in, I think, to the Secondary World, which actually existed, so it was **intensely** exciting, **intensely** exciting. And frightening! Because when one heard -- one couldn't go to sleep on Christmas Eve -- but when one heard the tread of Father Christmas's feet coming up the stairs, then one pulled the clothes over one's head, because something very strange had entered the house. . .

jimf said...

> Oh the joy of those nights where sleep came slowly and the mornings
> began with an early rush of excitement and anticipation. Even as an
> adult I look back on those years with fondness and sometimes catch
> myself wishing that for a moment, I could believe again. It was
> so magical. . .
> It was so much easier to have answers to everything. My mind didn't
> have to be bothered by questions. What I knew made up the world in
> its entirety. Outside tumoil need never to disrupt my bliss. . .
> [T]here are times when I miss the qui[et] days of bliss. . .

A lot of people, I think, feel the same way, whatever traditions they may have been raised in.

Even as a non-believer, I am often drawn to authors who can engage that sense of longing. For example, of the (admittedly few) authors I've read on the subject of Heaven, I find C. S. Lewis's lyrical excursions oddly and powerfully moving:

"All the things that have deeply possessed your soul have been but hints of it - tantalising glimpses, promises never quite fulfilled, echoes that died away just as they caught your ear. But... if there ever came an echo that did not die away but swelled into the sound itself - you would know it. Beyond all possibility of doubt you would say 'Here at last is the thing I was made for.' We cannot tell each other about it. It is the secret signature of each soul, the incommunicable and unappeasable want... which we shall still desire on our deathbeds..."
(C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, NY: Macmillan, 1938, 145-148)

Lewis labelled this "unappeasable want" with the German word "Sehnsucht", which means "romantic longing", more or less. It's the basis of a lot of what I like in the works of J. R. R. Tolkien (_The Lord of the Rings_ is dripping with it -- though rather less of that quality made it into the movie than I'd hoped.)

In a letter to his son Christopher Tolkien himself wrote in a similar vein, looking not forward to Heaven but backward to the myth of Eden.

From _Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien_, No. 96
(To Christopher Tolkien, 30 January 1945, pp. 109 - 111):

"I do not... feel either ashamed or dubious on the Eden 'myth'. We all long for it, and we are constantly glimpsing it: our whole nature at its best and least corrupted, its gentlest and most humane, is still soaked with the sense of 'exile'... [Y]our obstinate memory of this home of yours in an idyllic hour (when often there is an illusion of the stay of time and decay and a sense of gentle peace) -- _eithe genoimen_ [Greek 'would that I were'], 'stands the clock at ten to three, and is there honey still for tea?' -- are derived from Eden. As far as we can go back the nobler part of the human mind is filled with the thoughts of _sibb_, peace and goodwill, and with the thought of its loss. We shall never recover it, for that is not the way of repentance, which works spirally and not in a closed circle; we may recover something like it, but on a higher plane...."

I love this stuff, as a sort of beautiful fairy-tale, but my mind can't get any logical traction on it -- I can't take it seriously as a model of the Real World (TM). Maybe that means I've "finally bowed heart and will to the world or the evil spirit". Lewis would say I can't conceive of the natural order working this way because in fact the **natural** order **doesn't** work this way, and hasn't since it split away from the supernatural order as a result of the Fall. The Eastern religions seem to take a more fatalistic view of the thing, recognizing the inseparability of good and evil, dark and light.

Jonathan Adamson said...

L Cannon- I think you may have misunderstood my post. I was not arguing that good things don't happen, or even that unexplainable things don't happen. kids don't view santa as an abstract concept just as mormons don't view god as abstract. Santa is a magical man with a plump belly and a red sack. God is a glorified man who is all powerful. Not merely an idea or symbol representing a feeling our abstract idea. To attribute the presents under the tree to santa claus is to be wrong, as nice as it is to believe that, he just doesn't exist. THAT was my point.

Jonathan Adamson said...

JimF- You are like a walking encyclopedia of literary knowledge. You never cease to add texts and resources that apply to what I write. It amazes me. Thanks for all your insight.

yeti said...

I appreciate your quest for truth and your thoughts here.
I find too many would rather be comfortable in their beliefs, and have a feeling of certainty. than search for truth. I don't think many honestly value truth, but it sounds like you do. good on ya.

Duck said...

I read a quote recently on a friend's web site:

The four stages of life
1. You believe in Santa Clause,
2. You don't believe in Santa Clause,
3. You are Santa Clause,
4. You look like Santa Clause.

I hope you don't mind my sharing this- wanted to make you smile. :)

happy day, love, Duck

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