Rumours of another world

Allowing the Christmas story to open our hearts and minds to wonder and the mysterious

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.”

These words come from Albert Einstein. And I share them as an entry into a few thoughts I want to share around the theme: rumours of another world.

You see, when I hear the familiar Christmas stories, the tales of the virgin birth, the wise men, the angels, the shepherds, the star and more, they remind me that maybe, just maybe, there’s more going on in the world than meets the eye.

Though throughout history, most people have lived with a belief in another reality or dimension to the physical world we live in, our generation here in the western world has been trained to doubt anything that we can’t prove scientifically or empirically. That’s not to suggest science and reason is a bad thing—far from it—but if we’re not careful, we can become blinded or closed-minded to even the possibility of anything ‘beyond’.

It’s easy to mock the idea, for example, of a virgin birth, stating emphatically that, ‘it’s not possible’. But of course it’s not possible. That’s kind of the whole point. And we can never prove one way or another if that that’s what truly happened or not. But here’s what it is: it’s a rumour, or a hint, of another world. Of something going on that’s more than meets the eye. It’s a tale that, for better or worse, moves us to ponder deeper, alternative dimensions to the very nature of life itself. I mean, what if it did happen?

The author Philip Yancey writes: “Many people in societies advanced in technology go about their daily lives assuming God doesn’t exist. They stop short at the world that can be reduced and analysed, their ears sealed against rumours of another world.”

Now, I can only speak for myself but I don’t want to be a person who ever seals my ears or eyes to any rumours of another world. That’s not to say I accept anything and everything uncritically. Far from it. Any religion that encourages people to disengage their brains has no credibility at all. But my suspicion—and experience—is that it’s perfectly possible to engage both the head and the heart; it’s more than reasonable to embrace both the wonders that science explains and the wonders that only faith can reveal.

I want to be someone who is open-minded, without being a fool. And the Christmas story, in many ways, is a wonderful opportunity to reflect on our own open-mindedness. It’s a chance to ask ‘why?’ and ‘what if?’. Many of us are too afraid to go down that route though: who knows what can of worms it might unleash? It’s easier to fill our lives with activity and possessions that consume our time and attention than to allow life’s deepest questions to surface and make the space to consider them.

But when it comes to the baby at the heart of the Christmas story, there’s only so long we can keep burying the questions. Why are we, two thousand years later, still remembering the birth of this one particular baby? Who was he? Why did he exist? And how on earth could he be the ‘son of God’? Why did the Gospel authors write about Jesus in this way?

And, since my aim is to keep this short, I have no intention of trying to offer answers to these questions here and now. (Sorry!) My hope is simply this: that in the midst of all the hustle and bustle of Christmas, we’ll all allow ourselves the chance to look beyond the presents, the decorations, and the endless food and drink and allow the Christmas story to open our hearts and minds afresh to the mysterious and to wonder. As Einstein said, to lose wonder is to be as good as dead—it is to miss out on the full richness and diversity of life.

What if we used this Christmas season to rekindle our appetite for wonder? What if, at least in part, we embraced the story of Jesus’ birth as a reminder to remain humble about what we do and don’t know and to remain open to being surprised at what else might just be going on in our world, if only we had eyes to see?

It’s been a tough old year and I’m ready for a new one

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