Christmas Day is now a month past, but I’m still taking down my decorations. I’ve become quite lazy about it, boxing up a few things at a time and stretching it out over days … or this year, weeks. A younger me would have packed it all up in a four-hour frenzy of activity, followed by a cup of freshly-ground specialty coffee and biscotti. Now my style is Folgers and an Oreo (okay, three Oreos) before I even get started.
I wrapped the figures of the Nativity scene in tissue, a pedestrian task requiring little thought. Mary, check; Joseph, check; Wise Man number one, check; Wise Man number two, check; and so on. At some point a couple of neurons fired, and a question formed in my brain. Why am I doing this? As a Deist, a freethinker, why go to the trouble of setting up and taking down a Nativity scene, a representation of the events surrounding the birth of Christ? Why not just throw it into the box – who cares if it breaks – and toss it out on the curb come trash day?
As a small child, I loved to watch my mother lovingly set up her cherished Nativity scene every Christmas season and was thrilled when she finally deemed me old enough to do it myself. The statues were very small and fragile, easy for an 8-year old child to drop on an unforgiving floor and break into a thousand pieces. They were nestled in a fading pink tumble of something called “angel hair” which I was told to be very careful with, as it was some sort of spun glass and could cut little fingers.
Knowing how special the tiny painted glass figurines were to my mother, I took great care with them. These were not toys to be played with; they were displayed only once a year, the re-creation of the Christmas celebrated by my family. Setting up the manger scene was a gift to my family, to be done both thoughtfully and joyfully.
I carefully placed the last miniature white sheep next to the earnest shepherd boy, and slowly withdrew my hand so as not to knock anything over. Every piece was unscathed, positioned in a child’s heartfelt attempt to recreate the scene as my mother had. Gazing at my handiwork, I felt a sense of wonder at what was possibly the most inartful Nativity display ever created. I felt ... inspired.
Many adult years later, I bought a Nativity set for myself. It was an impulse buy, a reluctant “guess I should have one of these” moments on my way to a check-out stand with a shopping cart full of gifts and decorations. The set is cheap and pathetic; some of the figures have uneven bottoms and won’t stand up on their own. The Wise Men are carrying gifts, but who knows what frankincense and myrrh really look like? The stable is rickety and peeling, and Joseph tips over if I breathe on him. Why do I care about this piece of junk that represents something I don’t believe in?
This year, as I palmed the third defective Wise Man, I knew. Setting up that little Nativity scene had been the first true spiritual experience of my young life. The process was mindful. It required that I be in the moment. Contemplative, if you will. It reminded me that I can create new moments of spirituality, keeping the world at bay as I contemplate the feelings of awe, the wholeness, inspired by the natural works of God.
Deists believe that God created, and exists in, all of nature – including the nature of a child.