Christmas morning arrived sun-washed, blustery and cold. After giving me a hug at the back of the church before nine o’clock Mass, Father Tom smiled and said, “Hey, you wanna’ be lector?”

For everything that lives is holy, life delights in life. — William Blake

Christmas morning arrived sun-washed, blustery and cold. After giving me a hug at the back of the church before nine o’clock Mass, Father Tom smiled and said, “Hey, you wanna’ be lector?”
I was, of course, honored. So a few minutes later I slowly entered the sanctuary up the center aisle — between the acolyte dispersing sacred smoke with a swinging censer and Father Tom, resplendent in white vestments — singing, “O come all ye faithful joyful and triumphant…” with the choir and congregation. At the altar, I bowed, and took my place to the rear of the lectern.
I immediately became eleven years old, an altar boy fresh from training, serving Christmas Mass at Sacred Heart on an altar full of candles, pines and poinsettias, surrounded by statues of Mary, Jesus and the saints. Heard in my head old Father Phil White open the Latin Mass with, “Introibo ad altare Dei.” (I will go to the altar of God.) after which I almost blurted out, “Ad Deum qui laetificat juventutem meam.” (To God, Who giveth joy to my youth).
There I was, my shoes freshly shined, wearing my bleached-white, freshly-ironed surplice that had followed me like a kite in the wind as I hustled to the sacristy entrance to be an altar boy with the priest on the candlelit altar with my guardian angel.
I knelt, my hands carefully folded — blissfully recalling, with the server’s every move — my altar boy days; moving the missal, pouring the water, lighting charcoal in the censer and ringing the bells. Times when I walked within the divine.
Just last week I read how William Blake, a poet, mystic, and artist born in London in the mid 1700s, told his parents, when he was four year old, that he saw God put his head in the window. And at age nine, he said that he saw a tree filled with angels.
Although I never saw God in the window, or our apple tree out back full of angels, there were times in my boyhood, especially when serving Mass, that I touched the face of God and sensed angels around me. And others, when out on my boyhood wanderings in the strip pits or lazed in my tree house in the catalpa out back, that I saw things that brought forth spiritual wonder. Still do.
The sight of a Kansas sunset (this happened just last week in the parking lot of Ron’s) is sometimes more than I can bear, as I see in the clouds mystical beings flying in and out of the vortex. Then there’s the whispers of trees on moonlit nights. And the way the slanting winter light creates slow moving paintings on the purple brick streets out front of my house in winter. The open-faced gaze of a child in the checkout line at Wal-Mart. The list goes on and on.
These kinds of experiences — sometimes known as mystical or transcendent — are very hard to convey. As a Zen Buddhist monk once put it, “I know what it’s like to experience it, but when I try and tell someone what it’s like, it eludes me.”
After the readings and gospel, Father Tom gave a sermon about Christ being born into a messy situation — a cold, damp cave smelling of animals and manure — much like our lives; messy but real. He went on to say that the joy of Christmas is the realization that divine light and sacred meaning is present in the everyday ups and downs of being human with all its virtues and failings.
When I got back home, I dug out “Memories of My Altar Boy Days, 1960.” The first page reads, in part, “It’s not easy to get up early when it’s still dark and cold to serve six o’clock Mass. Yet someday you will look back and wish you were again on that early morning walk to church.”
True enough, I thought to myself. What’s more, due to a serendipitous turn of events, this morning I was.
And thanks to the sermon by Father Tom, the rest of my day, especially its messy and routine parts, became sacramental, shot through with the divine light of Christ’s birth.

J.T. Knoll is a writer, speaker and prevention and wellness coordinator at Pittsburg State University. He also operates Knoll Training, Consulting & Counseling Services in Pittsburg. He can be reached at 231-0499 or