Of God, Atheists and Christmas Mornings

Warning 1:  This is a snobbishly serious english post.  Nosebleed.

Warning 2:  It is very important to visit this link first to know more about Taizé and understand what I’m about to say. 

I went and stayed at Taizé for four days, together with Père Manuel, two adult monitors and some teenagers from La Mure.  At the very beginning of the journey, it felt like it’s a roadtrip to hell.  Or at least for a magpie like me.  Not only do I barely speak French, but I also can’t keep up with the conversations of these kids who seemed to be hyperventilating their elisions and liaisons through any given topic.  Sometimes, I just felt plain stupid trying to weave through their speech, grasping no more than a word or two to give me the flimsiest clue of what they’re talking about.

That’s why, when I learned about the special group for Anglophones, I immediately grabbed the opportunity to make this Taizé experience truly meaningful.  I left my morning post as an animator for the “petits groupes” (much to the disappointment of Pére Manuel) and hobnobbed with those who can truly compose a real English sentence and pronounce it correctly.  The Taizé experience is just too good to be lost in translation (or the virtual lack of).

Out of the 3,000 people in Taizé that time ( French youth mostly), there was only about 20 Anglophones present, and I was surprised how motley our group was:  There were Germans (who were protestant theologians and church leaders), Norwegian social workers, a Swedish Taizé volunteer, student-hitchhikers from Netherlands, a Brazilian, an Indonesian Catholic youth leader, a Russian Parisienne, etc, etc… and of course, me, a Filipino.  In fact, even the Taizé brother who gave us a talk is an American of Puerto Rican descent.  Sure enough, this variety of culture has brought a lively exchange of varied experiences and ideas among us, which, on the bottomline, surprisingly shares so many common essential elements.

One of the themes of these meeting of Anglophones focused on the Incarnation of God.  A Gospel reflection was made from Luke 2:8-20 which speaks of the adoration of the infant Jesus by the shepherds.   Br. Hector of Taizé then lead us to recall our Christmas experiences and traditions.   Indeed, each of us has something to share about Christmas but I was quite surprised that the warmest and most intimate Christmas memory was that of Ralph (not his real name).  Ralph, you see, is an atheist.  I had a notion of what atheists are before, basing on the some “atheists” who left ignorant comments on my blog  and I, of course, deleted.  But Ralph changed all my negative image of an atheist:  Yes, he doesn’t believe in the existence of God but then he doesn’t argue with or taunt anyone about religion, he’s genuinely open to the opinion of others regarding faith, he’s not fumingly angry with the Church and he is not afraid to explore and experience Taizé, a Christian place of dialogue and prayer.   The fact that he doesn’t think there’s God hasn’t hinder himself to be trully generous, open and brotherly.  What’s more, I, for one, secretly wished I had a Christmas as happy and as memorable as his.

During our small group discussion, we were asked to reflect on a statement which roughly goes like this:  “When all things in my life seems lost, God is my sure refuge.”  Or something like that, I already forgot.  Ralph, as expected, had a problem with the word “God” and so found it hard to make a reflection out of the statement.  I then suggested that he could probably substitute a word for God like Love or Peace or Justice or Family…  He paused for a short while and gave a confident reply.  He said, it will be, for him, his experience of Christmas.  He then explained that it’s because Christmas reminds him of home and family, the experience of unconditonal love and acceptance, the act of giving and receiving gifts, the warmth, the joyful expectation of being reunited with loved ones and gathering for meals…

His description of Christmas was surprisingly very Christian, as each of his words aptly describe an authentic life with Christ: a homecoming, a feasting, a welcoming, the spirit of thankfulness, sharing and acceptance.  In my Catholic world, this is the very essence of a Eucharistic life.

Truth to tell, I never suggested to Ralph how his Christmas experience translates to the experience of God.  I don’t want to impose my religion to this young man’s journey, especially when there’s so much going on in his heart which I myself do not understand and so must not interfere.  Nevertheless, within me, I am thankful to this young man who unknowingly reminded me of what truly God is all about.  It’s a shame how we, Christians, celebrate the major Christian feasts without truly experiencing their rich and life-changing significance.  I guess, it took an atheist to remind me all that, and as Frère Roger, the founder of Taizé succinctly said, God is love, and love alone.  Nothing else…

If you read this article in its entirety…

then your reward is this: 

My photos of the stainglass windows of the church of Taizé!

Pentecost

Pentecost

Visitation

Visitation

Easter

Easter

Annunciation

Annunciation

Transfiguration

Transfiguration

Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday

Assumption

Assumption

Epiphany

Epiphany

If you noticed, each of these stainglass windows represent a particular Catholic liturgical feast.  I arranged them not by their chronological order but rather according to the sequence of colors on a rainbow. Wala lang. Trip ko lang.  These windows were artworks of Frère Eric de Saussure, a brother of Taizé who died last year.  I pray now that as we celebrate and reflect on these feasts, may we truly discover their meaning and message in our lives.  Amen.

14 Responses

  1. hi bakit hayop ang symbol ng Easter? di ko kasi alam kaya tinatanong ko,hihihi…

    gusto ko yung sinabi ni ralph…” he doesn’t believe in the existence of God but then he doesn’t argue with or taunt anyone about religion, he’s genuinely open to the opinion of others regarding faith ”

    may respeto sa iba…

    aktuli, tupa yun. di ko lang alam kung bakit kulay orange.ü

  2. nosebleed nga ako kuya! napakalalim ng english dito.. inulit ko pa ng sampung beses bago ko na gets! Thanks to meriam webster.. hehheheh😀

    seriously, i was stunned and put to contemplation with this post. family, my pamily… (no pressure)!

    nowadays, we have a lot of Ralph’s kind. but being an atheist will not make you bad. i was literally convinced that someone powerful touched ralph’s heart to gradually see his existence.

    am not a regular chruch goer. not a catholic. not associated with any sect or religion. does that mean i’m an atheist?

    freelance believer siguro ang tawag dun.ü
    anyway, di naman mahalaga yang mga labels-labels na yan.
    basta, anak tayong lahat ng Diyos!!! hehehe…

  3. sometimes we do find the answers to the questions we are not even aware we’re seeking in the most unexpected places, at the most unexpected time, from the most unexpected people. bro utoy, i am catholic. my bestfriend is a muslim. yet, most of the beliefs we share encompass the very things i was inculcated with in catholic school. some of the evils of this world are simply brought about by ignorance and fanaticism. kaya nga to bring God into the picture is not fair. it’s the human condition that allows us to seek or reject, reflect or neglect.

    Wow, UM, nakakahawa ba ang “serious streak” ko?ü pero napahanga mo ako sa comment mong ito. para kang si Jacklyn Jose, versatile.ü
    seriously now, I agree in what you said. If only people would try to understand first before they give a judgment…

  4. Pare, may binalasa ako na Atheists sa blog ko. Tulad mo, madami ring nang-gagalaiti sa akin na atheists. di ko alam kung bakit haha. mga ingitero ba. papatulan ko sana ng isang nosebleeding at humiliating post kaya lang pinagiisipan ko pa kasi ayoko bumaba sa level nya. Check mo email mo sa hotmail, sinend ko dun yung link LOL It was a big controversy in the blogosphere. alam ata ni IFM yan haha

    iba na talaga ang sikat.ü nabasa ko na at tawa ako ng tawa. may sagot na rin akong 10 minute homily sa hotmail.ü if I’m an atheist, i’ll have him shot kasi he’s prostituting his principles. nakakahiya sya.

  5. like momski UM, my best friend is a “frustrated” catholic and my mentors are a catholic priest, a muslim doctor and a protestant pastor. kahit magkaiba ng relihiyon, we always knew that we accept each other wholly with humble respect and because of that we always find it comforting to see each other beyond our own beliefs. Kung hindi na talaga magkasundo, we always agree on one thing: It’s your personal relationship with God/Allah that matters… nothing else. it’s all about each one’s spiritual journey…

    amen, IFM!!!ü and one thing more: It’s one thing to have a principle, a belief, a religon. It’s another thing to have that principle work for the good of mankind. There’s so much faithlessness in the world, we can at least believe in each other and in the love that comes with it.

  6. actually mas nakikipag argue pa ang mga ibang Christian religions kaysa sa mga atheist or walang religion. my closest (friends) students right now puro atheist 3 pranses at 1 aleman. lapitin aq ng mga atheist ata hehehe kasi khit sa mga dti kong korean students mga atheist ang ngging closest ko. i dont impose the faith i profess into them rather than, as sinner as i am, i show it more in actions than words about my being a Catholic though everytime I email them I always state that I believe God does exist. Si Simone, she’s interested in knowing God pero marami xa questions na di q masagot. I was surprised when one of them si Julien who sincerely confesses he does not believe in God, once emailed me when I was sick, “God bless!”
    Nosebleed nga ang entry na to, kinabahan aq sa ingles seriously hehehe

    truth be told, reactional lang kung bakit ako nag-english ulit. A non-english speaker told me di raw marunong mag-english ang pinoy. aba, aba, aba… How daring you! Huh do you things you is? My pamily…

  7. that’s foreign to me.. freelance beleiver😀

    thanks!

    gawa-gawa ko lang kasi yun. cute diba?:)

  8. sorry wrong spelling..hihihihhi

    no, I things ist currect.;)

    God bless!

  9. ang masasabi ko lang bago manghusga, sikapin muna intindihin. tama si utakmunggo, kung minsan ang msasama nangyayari dahil sa kawalan nila ng TAMANG KAALAMAN.

    very well said, kapatid.ü God bless!

  10. Cool-headed atheist, i should say…and a cool-headed response from you. Pero kung araw-araw mo ba naman makasalamuha ang mga katulad nina Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennet, Steven Weinberg, mga talagang ikanga, super suave na mga mandirigma, o di kaya yung mga super bastos din na less informed naman sabi ni utakmung’s, talagang ang isang Kristiyano o Muslim ay mapapaisip din sa kanyang pinaniniwalaan. A healthy conversation is not bad at all – katwiran sa katwiran na lamang, walang personalan. Faith remains reasonable. pero what an opportunity for you to visit the ecumenical Taize center – cause that’s where it all boils down – the shortness of all arguments before the big, loving, transforming silence of God.

    Yan talaga ang idea ng Taiz: that a dialogue is always about finding the common ground, as it is an occasion of encounter and exchange, and never a place to insist what we believe is correct.

  11. Especially now that we are living in an ultra-conservative Moslem environment which is not exactly tolerant of other religious beliefs, I’d like to think that I have become more open in finding God and the values that the Christian faith stands for in the most unlikely of people and places.

    Matalinhaga lang talaga gumalaw ang Diyos natin paminsan-minsan pero nakakatuwang isipin na sa mga di inaasahang pagkakataon (o tao, kagaya ni Ralph), mas pinapakita at pinaparamdam niya sa atin na tunay siyang nandiyan at umiiral.🙂

    As usual, loved your stained glass shots!

    I agree with you 1006, pinky.

    as for the photos, truth be told, no-brainer ang pagpicture sa stain glass windows. they always come out beautiful, no matter what.ü

    God bless your trip to Prague!

  12. si kengkay at ang mga little kengkays ay katoliko, si kengkoy e protestante. pareho kaming busy sa mga aktibidades ng dalawang simbahan. nung asa thailand ako, nag praktis ako ng buddhism esp yung kanilang meditation. sa totoo lang, sa mga ganyang halo halo, mas lumalakas ang faith.

    tama yan, kenks. we always take for ourselves the essential parts of faith.ü yung ibang tao kasi, yung mga unimportant sidelines ng faith ang pinagtutuunan ng pansin. tuloy, fanaticism ang lumalakas, hindi faith.

  13. […] (82 comments) Pinakamalungkot kong post: Ang Pinakamalungkot Kong Post Pinakaseryoso kong post:  Of God, Atheists and Christmas Mornings Post kung saan may pinakamarami akong inamin tungkol sa sarili ko: Isang Walang Kakwenta-kwentang […]

  14. There are atheists out there who know how to speak their minds, and are open as long as you can stand on your ground well and that you can defend your position with reason, logic and science.
    😀

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