Everyday hauntings suggest that ordinary life is no less sacred than within the walls of a church.
When you’re a kid, Christmas is about the presents. Now middle age has made me maudlin, it still is about the presents – but in a different way. It’s about people’s presence as much as the gifts they give.
Cue the eye roll, sure. But I’m serious. Even if Christmas is stripped of religious significance for many Australians, our relationship with treasured gifts gives us away. If we get sentimental about our things, it’s because we treat them sacramentally – as bearers of the presence of another. So even the biggest agnostic may be kind of religious without realising it.
Each Christmas, for instance, I find myself haunted by the ghosts of presentspast: by friends and family who over the years have given me, variously, a novelty Batman mug, a crocheted Anne of Green Gables doll, a now-tattered origami lantern and an unruly orchid with no two flowers facing the same direction.
I’ll be honest: I didn’t exactly go gaga over these random gifts that now, inevitably, clutter my apartment. But even if they don’t “spark joy”, I can’t toss them. Every time I see these gifts, I think of the people who gave them to me.
There’s a link here with the more “official” sacraments of Christian tradition, like the bread and wine of the Eucharist that represent, in some mysterious way, Jesus’s body and blood. Through religious rite, ordinary objects gesture beyond themselves to a different order of reality.