“On the day when we can fully trust each other, there will be peace on Earth.” —L. Ron Hubbard, Founder of Scientology
When I was a child, my father and mother would bundle my sister and me into the car and drive straight through from Pittsburgh or Philadelphia to my grandparents’ home in Iowa.
My maternal grandfather was a minister, his wife the supportive first lady of his parish. The parsonage where they lived was a low, long house tucked behind the church, a clean, beautiful stone building—neat and unique in a town of brick.
Their house was filled with Christmas—the aroma of dinner or cookies or German stollen wafting out of the kitchen. The sound of Handel’s Messiah in the living room. The sight of the tree, the lights, the Christmas cards perched on bookshelves, the glass bowls of homemade peanut brittle decorating furniture tops in the living and dining rooms. And although it was an age when you weren’t to eat between meals, my grandmother, in moments of shared conspiracy, would hold out a bowl of candy or a plate of cookies and nod me an okay with a wink.
One Christmas Eve, I remember dressing up and walking the slippery white path from house to church—me in small dark pants, white shirt and one of my first ties, my sister in a fancy dress—to attend my grandfather’s service. That was the service where I first heard “What Child Is This?” and later that night its plaintive, minor melody stayed with me, vaguely harkening to something old, familiar and warm.
Christmas was faith and family. It was eating and laughing and playing together.
Years later, my wife and I, both Scientologists, took up our own holiday treks with our sons, bringing them to my parents’ home to immerse them in holiday sights, sounds and smells. We put presents under the tree in the front hall, we ate meals around the handmade dining room table crafted by my grandfather, we savored our last loaf of stollen made by my grandmother before she passed away.
Still later, we gathered around our own trees. We celebrated my first granddaughter’s first Christmas, then her second, and as the years unrolled we saw the addition of her two sisters and most recently her brother. In another year we celebrated Christmas with my younger son, his wife and their two children in his adopted Austrian home, surrounded by his new extended family. We watched his children open Advent calendars; we strolled at night through the snowy main square of the quiet town seated in a valley among Austrian hills. We made the rounds to my daughter-in-law’s grandparents, sharing stories with hand motions and broken German and English, assisted by my son’s half-whispered translations.
Although the meaning of Christmas has changed for me over the years, in some ways my understanding of it has deepened. It is infused with hope and the promise of a better life and I understand now, better than ever, that such hope and promise are at the core of religious faith and practice.
I have come to see that all of us, whether Scientologist or Christian, Muslim, Buddhist or Jew, are bound by our shared spirituality. And that all of us yearn for hope, for the promise of a better life and for a world truly at peace.
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