What child is this?

December 15, 2008 | 26 comments

Every time I hear the song What Child is This?, I feel haunted.

It started back in 2005, when I was still researching Christianity and not sure that I believed its claims. I’d be driving around, yapping into my cell phone, glaring at people who drove too slowly as I rushed to buy presents I should have bought weeks before, and then I’d catch sight of some nativity scene and all my racing thoughts would stop. For just a moment, I’d remember that I had a question to answer far bigger than what I should get my husband for Christmas.

During this time I always paused when I heard the song What Child is This?, its slow, ethereal melody sending chills down my spine, the simple question it asked seemingly whispered in my ear by something closer than the tinny mall sound system.

It haunted me, challenged me, to stop everything and consider the baby who was born in Bethlehem 2, 000 years ago, to look at the manger scenes that dotted the winter landscape of my city, and ask:

What child is this?

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 ever ask. I came to see that if this child was who the Christians said he was, the question of his identity was the only question that really matters.

And even though I’ve now found the answer, the song haunts me still, because the question it states leaves another one unspoken:

Am I living like I really believe the answer?


  1. Rachel

    Beautiful post! I love reading your unique perspective. Thanks for sharing, and thanks for stopping by my blog!

  2. Cathy

    Wow. Wasn’t expecting your last line. Thank you for the reminder.

  3. pearlsoftruth

    Challenging question… one we should ask ourselves everyday!

  4. frizzy scissorhands

    instead of driving around like raving mad lunatics trying to soothe our pathetic egos with the ridiculous notion of gift giving … i wish we all could ponder this question.

  5. Amy Jane (Untangling Tales)

    If you want to hear “haunting” and a challenge, think on the Coventry Carol.

    A song surviving from the 16th century it is a remembrance of the slaughter of the innocents– A reminder of how Christ has always been tied to death, trauma and travail as well as to peace and life.

  6. aunt dottie

    Good job, Jen. Keep loving and blogging your truth. Christmas blessings!

  7. tootie

    Your posts are always so thought-provoking.

    I loved the last line. I hope to ponder that the next couple weeks!

  8. Whimsy

    Fulton Sheen makes the observation in his Life of Christ that the cross cast its shadow over the manger. This is the thesis of his book, and this song ties into that notion perfectly.

    Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,
    The cross be borne for me, for you.
    Hail, hail the Word made flesh,
    The Babe, the Son of Mary.

  9. Beverlydru

    Simple yet profound. Beautiful and thought-provoking. Truth. That’s why I read your blog.

  10. Jen

    Not only does the song haunt me as well, but He haunts me. I, too, ask myself the same question, and as a convert also, I feel we’ve been given such a gift. I have to wonder if I don’t take it for granted a lot of the times. Thanks for such a wonderful and beautiful post!

  11. Kristin T.

    A beautiful reflection on a beautiful song. Thank you.

    “What Child Is This” has been my favorite Christmas carol since I was a child, but I have never taken the title phrase away from the music, changed the inflection, and simply asked, in wonder and awe, “What child IS this?” Isn’t it amazing that something we know so well, and in my case have known for so long, can continue to offer new perspectives and understandings?

  12. Tausign

    This post speaks of the power of the Holy Spirit to transmit spiritual realities in wordless fashion. Regarding your last question, I would say that gauging how we live is ultimately answered in gauging how we love. Peace and all good.

  13. The Koala Bear Writer

    Powerful questions! I think we’ve heard some Christmas songs so often that we no longer stop to think about what they are saying. So thanks for making us stop to think about this one! (It’s one of my favourite songs too.)

  14. mary ellen

    Thank you.

  15. Agnes Regina

    Thank you, Jennifer… that will be my meditation for Advent! God bless!

  16. meta

    This isn’t related to the post, but I was wondering if you studied or had heard of Theology of the Body at all before you converted and had blogged about it. I’d be interested to hear an atheist’s reaction to JPII at his best.

  17. Jennifer @ Conversion Diary

    Thank you for all the comments!

    Meta – yes, that was a big factor in my conversion. I wrote about it a little bit here, and my entire category of posts on the subject is here.

  18. Maggie

    What a great post! I love reading about all the little ways God was calling you to Him even when you didn’t know it 🙂

  19. Shannon @ Rocks In My Dryer

    Wow, Jen. Beautiful.

  20. Shanda

    Wonderful post. Thank you.

  21. Jasmine

    I have been reading your blog for hours today. I am a 20 year old college student, and I am feeling increasingly drawn toward Catholicism, the religion of my childhood. I do not yet believe in my heart, but I feel a pull toward God that I cannot deny. I cannot help but feel that I may be at the beginning of a journey. I am trying to learn and practice humility, so that I may keep my eyes and heart open. My largest struggle comes with my homosexuality. I am young, and the thought of a lifetime of celibacy is scary and somewhat overwhelming. I dream of having a partner in life and raising children. Perhaps I will be able to succeed in a happy, healthy, and productive heterosexual relationship when I am older.

    I wanted to send to you my most sincere gratitude for your blog. Yesterday I read blogs and forum entries written by Catholics that turned me off, but your writing and reasoning resonates with me. It has inspired me. I will continue to read and consider.

    If I may, I would like to request that you and any others reading my comment will please pray for me. I seek humility, clarity, and courage.

  22. Jennifer @ Conversion Diary


    Thank you so much for your kind comment. You will definitely be in my prayers. Please feel free to email me as well (the link to my address is on my profile here.)

  23. Jasmine

    Jen, after a couple of days (or months, really) of alternatively realizing and ignoring my own feelings, your blog has inspired me to get my thoughts in order and even seek others’ advice. Not to plug myself (!), but I just started my first blog to help me understand and sort through my own thoughts. I have no readers and no idea what I’m doing… And that goes for both blogging and exploring religion. In case you or anyone else have any thoughts or advice, I have titled my blog Courage and Clarity. http://courageandclarity.blogspot.com/

    For now, I will continue reading your past blog entries and will try to keep on examining myself and my thoughts. Thank you very much.

  24. Anonymous

    yes, but how i shall download it? please help me…

  25. r l n !

    i became a born again CHRISTian in 2003 and also blog about my love for JESUS, decorating the blogs with the talent of art He gave me. Wayne from Jeremiah Films connected your link and i was intrigued to read about your conversion, because i came from a Catholic background. Are you a Bible-believing CHRISTian Catholic then? i know it doesn't matter our denomination (i go to a Baptist church, but i don't label myself a Baptist), as long as we believe that JESUS is the Way to the Father and that the Holy SPIRIT is that Helper He gave us when He went back to the Father.

    Some of my family is still unsaved…what do your family say about your conversion?


  1. WhollyRoamin'Catholic » On carols - [...] F. of the blog “Conversion Diary” had a post last year about the song “What Child is This?”. Excerpt:…

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