My Agnostic Father And Christmas Eve   2 comments

My father died of colon cancer on 21 December 2007. As we mourned him through that Christmas, my brother and I remarked to each other that we did not expect future Christmas celebrations to be melancholy—as we know they are for many who have lost loved ones around the Holidays—because we didn’t particularly associate our father with our Christmas rituals.

It is our mother who holds our family’s Christmas traditions—buying a tree and decorating the house, sending Christmas letters, opening presents on Christmas morning, and a feast with family and friends Christmas evening. Since their divorce in our early childhood, our dad left most of that to our mother.

But there’s one Christmas tradition that I find myself associating more with my father, and oddly—because my mother is the devout, churchgoing parent—it’s church on Christmas Eve.

My father’s faith fell somewhere between agnostic and atheist, depending on the day. He had lost his faith in his 20s, as an unjust, warring world and the assassinations of prophets and peacemakers evidenced, to him, the absence of an all-caring supreme being.

Several members of his family regularly ended their cards and letters to him with variations on the words: “we are praying for you,” and these words usually served as a source of irritation to him. However well intentioned these statements were, Dad received them as judgement, condescension, a message of “we think you are going to hell, and hope you will turn your life around and save your sorry soul” (at least one cousin often stated that message explicitly).

But for some time up until that loss of faith, he had been discerning a call to be a minister in the Presbyterian Church. He had been raised in that tradition and steeped in Biblical knowledge. He could go toe-to-toe quoting the Bible chapter and verse with those relatives, and could match them in remembering every old standard in the hymnal.

When I left my Presbyterian roots in my 20s, lit out for a more liturgical denomination, and found it in Grace Cathedral and the Episcopal Church, my dad started accompanying me to Grace for the midnight mass on Christmas Eve. He also loved attending the annual Advent Service of Lessons and Carols at Stanford Memorial Church. He loved the music, the ceremony, and the spaces in which the ceremony occurred. He had a red vest that he loved to wear for special occasions—especially during Christmastime—and he always wore that vest to Grace on Christmas Eve. We never really talked about why he wanted to come along with me, but it was clear that he loved this tradition—that it brought to life something of the faith of his youth—and perhaps built upon it something new. Despite not talking about it, we took great joy in sharing the experience with each other—and I take great joy in the memory of it.

My father loved ritual, and that, as evidenced particularly to me in what became our Christmas Eve ritual together, suggests to me that he was, at heart, a liturgical person. I think that I am a liturgical Christian in large part because of my ritual-loving, agnostic father.

Having moved to Colorado earlier this year, I am preparing for my first Christmas Eve service away from Grace Cathedral in many years. And though the past eight of those Christmas Eves have been without my dad, it is he who comes first to my mind when I think about what and whom I will miss from that service: my faithless father is my first association with Christmas Eve at Grace Cathedral.

Towards the end of his life he came to some peace with the prayer comments from his family, because a good friend of his encouraged him to receive them as kind thoughts on his behalf—as love sent his way. I continue to pray for my father—not for the conversion of his faith or for the salvation of his soul—but for his peace, his happiness—as I pray for any of my friends and family.

Of your charity, I invite your kind thoughts and prayers for my father, David Pomerenk, on this the anniversary of his death.

Posted 21 December 2015 by Br. Scott Michael Pomerenk, BSG in Uncategorized

2 responses to “My Agnostic Father And Christmas Eve

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  1. A truly beautiful post. Scott, I am a friend of Rebecca’s and I often enjoy your posts on facebook when I am fortunate to see them through Becky’s “liking” them.
    I often wonder why people are not left to celebrate their beliefs, quietly, in their hearts. i don’t believe that your dad lost his beliefs deep down. The world is a pretty tough place to come to terms with. I would also describe myself as agnostic but a little part of me, deep down, believes. I often search for meaning of the sort that your story tells.
    Very lovely – thank you for sharing.
    All the best in your vocation.

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