The Beginning of My Religious Pilgrimage

Like most children I was fascinated by Santa Claus, but I found his abilities and many appearances confusing. I concluded from the worship songs about him, “He sees you when you are naughty and he knows when you are nice,” that he is both omniscient and ethical judge. His legal standard was not entirely clear, but posed an impenetrable aseity (being “good for goodness sake”) that did not clarify what exactly he expected. Belief or faith in his existence, I understood, was the main thing. Receiving grace or presents entails believing and he who doubts stands condemned to be without presents – thus there is an inherent agonistic bind in which doubt is its own condemnation.

After sighting many incarnations of the Rotund One, I remember a deep confusion and the beginning flickers of a question. There was only the vaguest consistency in size, shape and tenor of his multiple department store and street corner incarnations. I drew Hindu like conclusions: Santa must be localized in what I assumed were temporary avatars, expressions of his True North Self. And this was the conclusion which led me to the idea of a northward pilgrimage.

Seeing Santa in his ontological essence I realized required an upward journey. Only his permanent/transcendent mode, his permanent home (I may have mixed in some heavenly metaphor) would enfold all of the lesser avatars into the singular Noumenal Jolly One. Just as the Earth is round but has a singular pole from which it unwinds, I assumed Santa emanated from his solid (to my mind, cold and solid were the same) North Pole Real Presence.

Yes, I was a bit vague on the metaphysics, yet wanting to believe and in believing to receive grace, I instinctively hit upon the idea of setting out across the desert. Aren’t all great pilgrimages a means of striving for the fullness of faith and perhaps in the process of obtaining the beatific vision?

I explained all of this to my good friend Danny, in brief, “You wanna find Santa,” I said. I convinced him that if we headed due north, we could run Santa to ground. He agreed, so we headed across the desert outside of Page, Arizona to the North Pole – two five-year-olds on a quest to find the meaning of life.

We may have both been a bit vague on geography, but if you have seen the high desert around Page, you could follow the logic: there is nothing due north and the North Pole is in the midst of nothing. Cross into this empty expanse and we would be knocking on Santa’s door in no time.

Of course, we understood we would need to provision ourselves for the journey, thus we carried a large cardboard box with us as we headed out. We were not too far into the desert when the Sun began to set. We figured we had better set up camp. One of us had to go to the bathroom, and luckily, we had brought our cardboard box, as we thought of it as a complete shelter with facilities. This allowed us to preserve what we had made with a pride which only two five-year-old boys could share.

What we were not clear about was how we would cross the Grand Canyon – and apparently this had occurred to the entire town of Page when we came up missing.

As the Sun set and darkness closed in, it occurred to me that I had forgotten one key provision. We were cold and I told Danny we would need to build a campfire. I told him to wait at the box, while I went into town to get some matches.

The neighbors and friends of Page had gathered and were making a northward sweep in a long single file line at the edge of town when I walked out of the desert.

Author: Paul Axton

Paul V. Axton spent 30 years in higher education teaching theology, philosophy, and Bible. Paul’s Ph.D. work and book bring together biblical and psychoanalytic understandings of peace and the blog, podcast, and PBI are shaped by this emphasis.