Thursday, August 11, 2005

Faith is daring the soul to go beyond what the eyes can see.

I'm not sure what brought it on at this time of the year, but my seven-year-old son Leo came to me last week with an all-too-familiar question: "Dad, does Santa Claus really exist?" At the ages of four, five and even six, the answer "yes" seems much more innocent for a parent, but there comes the arbitrary age of seven when a parent has to momentarily weigh the benefits and downsides of answering "yes" and "no." Seven years old is that approximate age when the field of knowledge and behavior widens for children - some children are told of Santa's metaphorical existence, while others are left to decide for themselves. So, what would I now tell Leo?

"Leo, answer me this: Have you ever seen God?"

"No, Dad."

"And yet, you believe in the existence of God, right?"

"Of course... but,... does Santa really exist?"

"Leo, you're familiar with the life of St. Nicholas, from whom the legend of Santa Claus originates?"

"Yes, Dad, and he's real and I never saw him."

"So, Leo, what do you believe?"

"Yes, I think Santa Claus exists."

And Leo turned back to his afternoon activities, without so much as another further-prodding question. Potential emotional disaster was averted... for now... But what happens when he stumbles across a "Santa" gift in our closet in the not-so-distant future? What happens when he asks for more physical proof - other than the standard "Santa" letter left behind each year - toward the existence of this mythical Santa? What happens when flying reindeer and chimney entries and threats of coal no longer thread together a child's belief system?

Love. Hope. God. A hereafter resembling a glorious paradise. Human kindness. Good luck and fortune. There is so much of the daily acts and motivations of our life that are tethered together by simple human faith. We want so badly for a construct, a value, a possibility to exist - and the only way for us to bridge the gap between what we see occuring with our eyes and what we know could and should exist within our hearts is simple human faith. Without consciously realizing it each day, we leave our front door faithfully believing that our actions - no matter how small - matter and can/will impact others. Without consciously realizing it each day, we enter our day believing there remains enough collective and individual human kindness that we won't have to physically defend ourselves from harm at every turn. Without consciously realizing it each day, we wake from our bed and live a life of hope - sometimes days of tenous hope and other days of grand hope.

And there remains - and always will remain - moments scattered along our life that fly in the face of our beliefs and hope. Moments that challenge the heart and head and make us wonder, "What do I really believe anymore?" And yet, we somehow dare our soul to look far beyond our eyes' vision and keep searching the horizon - because we want to believe, we need to believe, we are called to believe and hope. It is that very thread that keeps us tethered to the Great Beyond where all that is good and noble and just and pure exists. And it is that very thread that binds us to one another, where all that is good and noble and just and pure can - if given enough chance and belief - exists.

Does Santa Claus actually exist? There are times when I want to go back to my childhood and believe it to be true. There are times when I want to believe, and be shown through gracious gifts under the Christmas tree, that I was a good boy for another year. And there are times when I want to be held by that elderly Father figure and shown that I made His good list. Do I need a physical being manifested in a red suit for this belief to continue? Do I always need to be shown Love so that I can go on believing that Love exists? And do I always need to be shown acts of kindness simply to live a life of kindness?

Perhaps it is not simply daring the soul to search beyond the eyes' limit for faith to occur. Perhaps it is also daring the soul to live and thrive and act far beyond the confines of frail human understanding... to hope for all that is good and to believe in all that is holy and pure and to live like it is all true. In some small way, perhaps our belief in Santa all but fades when we quit being that Santa for one another; when we let go of living lives in the spirit of hope and goodness and innocence.

Dad, does Santa Claus really exist? Or is the spirit of hope and goodness and innocence simply a mental construct in our mind? Can I attest to the fact that a jolly old elf visits our home once a year? I haven't seen it occur yet (unless you count my father in his later years). Can I attest to the fact that Leo has been a good boy and on the good list? Easily. And even though my physical eyes have not witnessed the actual arrival of sleighed gifts each year to our home, I have witnessed the continued arrival and presence of hope and goodness and innocence in our midst. And if that is Santa Claus, then so be it.

hoedl's haven
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