Talk about striking visuals at the beginning of Advent!

Talk about the artist’s imagination that juxtaposed these items in front of the main altar at St. Gerard Majella’s Church. The display engulfs worshipers in pregnant silence: simultaneous emptiness and fullness, a fitting manner to prepare for the Christ mysteries.

Each item speaks of rich symbolism. The sheepskin, positioned in the shape of a newborn, evokes the Israelites’ Passover lamb; its blood, smeared over their doorposts, directed the avenging angel’s slaughter of the Egyptians’ firstborn.

In the Christian tradition, Jesus of Nazareth was recognized as the Lamb of God (John 1:29), his bloody crucifixion and death resonating with the Passover Lamb; both wrought salvation: Israelites from Pharaoh’s enslavement and Christians from the bondage of sin.

In the gospel of John, Jesus dies at the precise moment that the unblemished Passover lamb is sacrificed in the Temple at Jerusalem.

Within the outline of the sheepskin, the blue fabric suggests the mantel of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, the woman who knew life, its joys and vicissitudes. The cruel crown of thorn and the jeweled one speak of Jesus as Suffering Servant and as King, frequent themes found in both Old and New Testaments.

And the straw-filled manger speaks of humility, critical to entering the Christ mysteries with their teachings; the rumpled white fabric, freed from swaddling clothes.

A simple arrangement in the sanctuary of this church, but one that nudges surrender to peace and joy—such happens within prayer.  

A solitary cardinal alighted on the plank fence in my back yard, its redness quickening my heart. Then, it whizzed down upon the bleached grass, its dark eyes searching from side to side. Like a wise professor attired in the scarlet robes of a theologian, it discerned the next step before taking it boldly; then, more angular steps. Then, it was gone. I blinked, hard.

Stillness enveloped me. I had been visited and I knew it. Rather than resume my work in the kitchen, I savored this intrusion.

The cardinal’s fiery presence recalled images of Christ Pantocrator (the Lawgiver), rendered in mosaics or frescoes, which adorn domes and apses of medieval Eastern Orthodox churches. The dark outlines of Christ’s iconic eyes, his red tunic, his left hand holding the jeweled book of the New Testament, his right hand raised in blessing—Such was the demonstrable power that had inflamed centuries of imaginations of worshipers, huddled in the nave below, whispering their prayers.

Such still has the holding power to thwart evil, with its allure of dark power. Willingness to follow the Pantocrator’s sway freshens us with loving care and protection.

After a full night’s sleep, I awoke at 7:30 A.M. with this dream:

Inside a darkened theater filled to capacity, I sit alone and watch a musical. From the orchestra pit, musicians play catchy tunes to accompany the songs and dance steps of children, dressed in red-and-white striped bodysuits. They execute clever routines upon a wide set of stairs on center stage.

This dream reveals lively energy in my psyche. The darkened theater suggests a venue of playfulness that diminishes harsh lines of reality and activates imaginations. Identification with the performers opens cramped worlds, often, strangers to the hilarity of play, as is my case.

Again, I am alone, my former practice of attending the theater and other artistic events. Having a companion watered down the impact of the experience for which my psyche yearned. So desperate I was for nurturing, for new learning, for enlargement of my world. Following such experiences, my musings were rich, especially if they were derived from musicals, on stage or films; they seeded my loneliness with elan for a short while.

In the orchestra pit, an unseen director, Precious God in disguise, coordinates the musicians, also unseen, and the dancers: their red-and-white striped bodysuits blur pinkish as they traipse up and down the stairs, just for the fun of it. At least, it looks that way.

This dream feels like a teaser: its invitation to explore my own playfulness, to open out my laughter, long buried beneath fears of physical diminishment. Such is critical for the full development of my humanness, a Godly dimension.

I do have a new helper, though.

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