Jennifer Fulwiler is a writer and speaker who converted to Catholicism after a life of atheism. She’s a contributor to the books The Church and New Media and Atheist to Catholic: 11 Stories of Conversion, and is writing a book based on her personal blog, ConversionDiary.com. She and her husband live in Austin, TX with their five young children, and were featured in the nationally televised reality show Minor Revisions. You can follow her on Twitter at @conversiondiary.
Of all the seasonal music out there, my favorite is What Child Is This? Though I’ve had a special place in my heart for the song ever since my conversion, I liked it even before I was a Christian. I never paid much attention to the lyrics (nor did I with any other Christmas songs, which I saw as being based on myths), but every now and then I’d hear a particularly moving rendition of What Child Is This? and it would give me chills, though I could never figure out why.
Then, in 2005 I started to think that Christianity might be true, and the song impacted me on a whole new level. That December I’d be running around, yapping into my cell phone, trying to find some gifts for my toddler that would hit the sweet spot of entertaining him without driving me insane ... yet every time I heard that song, all my frantic activity would cease. For just a second, I’d close my eyes and consider the question that this song whispered through its slow, ethereal melody.
Everywhere I went, the tune seemed to haunt me. Each time I got caught up in seemingly important questions like “What is the best way to stay on budget?” or “How do you wrap Earl Campbell sausage if you’re going to use it as a stocking stuffer?”, I’d hear those familiar notes, and remember that I faced a much bigger question, one that urgently demanded an answer. When I drove by the manger scenes that dotted my city’s landscape, I would hear that song playing in my memory, and ask:
When I thought of the implications of the answer, I was stunned to see that it was not only the most important question I could be asking right now, but the most important question I could ask ever. I came to see that if this child is who the Christians said he is, the question of his identity is the only question that really matters.
This Advent, the song still grips me every time I hear it, even though I’ve already found the answer I was looking for. Because now I hear a new, unspoken question in the haunting notes of the classic song:
Am I living like I really believe the answer?