Thursday, December 9, 2010

Finding Faith at Christmas

This essay by Jan Vallone Roberts appeared in Guideposts magazine.

I'd grown to dread the holiday season. Each year we celebrated less. Gone were the lights, the banister greens, the creche. All we had left was the tree, now standing half-decorated in our living room. All of the holiday bustle had become too stressful. I was burned out on Christmas. I even resisted going to midnight mass.

I teach at an orthodox Jewish high school. The students, boys wearing yarmulkes and the girls in their long skirts, start their days at synagogue followed by studying the Hebrew Scriptures before they come to my class.

I'd envied their faith. I too had once believed deeply in God, and in the wonder of faith. But my faith—my wonder—had faltered over time. Not completely, but like a beach being eroded by the tide.

"Open your books to chapter five," I said to my class one morning. We were reading the novel Night about a teenage concentration-camp prisoner who had lost his faith. He had even stopped praying and fasting. "He should have prayed and fasted anyway," said one student.

"Wouldn't that have been hypocritical?" I asked.

"No," said another. "The Torah says you should do what God tells you, even when you don't know why. You read Scripture and eventually you understand. It's called Na'aseh V' Nishma—we will act and understand."

Her words stayed with me. Could it be that I'd had things backward? I'd always thought my faith preceded my acts. But maybe sometimes it was the other way around.

At home I dug out the Christmas lights and strung them on the tree. Then I sat down and started rereading the Bible. I kept it up all season long. By Christmas Eve I looked forward to midnight mass. You see, my Jewish students brought me a Christmas miracle. I had acted, and by acting as if I had faith, I found faith.

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