For 30 years, Simon have started listening the Christmas music the day after Thanksgiving. We have a collection of beautiful Christmas music, much of it choral, from the 1500s to now. This year Simon asked me what I wanted to hear first. I picked “An American Christmas” by Joel Cohen and the Boston Camerata. By the second track I was sobbing. I tried to tell him why.
I am crying for what isn't.
I haven’t been to church for years. My atheism developed over years, and I’m firm in it. (Leave me alone. Nothing you say will change my mind.) But I still like Christmas music. I still love much about the Episcopal Church. It’s a peaceful, beautiful denomination. The music is a large part of what I still love. But as an nonbeliever, I do other things with what was once church time.
Under the beauty of Christmas music is an emptiness that makes the stories, the traditions, the promises, the faith worth very little. Wars happen and prayers and faith don’t save lives. Prayers and faith don’t stop violence, hunger, sickness, poverty, abuse, lies, corruption, theft, inequality, fascism, and racism. They don’t stop the destruction of democracies. The state of the Christian church in the US is sad. People outside the church are annoyed by it or afraid of it. Many people inside the church are angry, divisive, critical, cruel, and hard. The caring, kind, inclusive Christians are figuring out what to do with and about them.
I was crying for what isn’t, for the work and feeling that have gone into the Christmas music for as long there has been Christmas music, and for the sad, mostly uselessness of it, because faith and the prayers don’t change or prevent problems. Entertaining, moving, beautifully performed music, I think of it as part of the Christian myth.