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The eve before the birth of Jesus, we remember his very pregnant mother, Mary. Few scriptural accounts tell her story. Yet, thanks to the rich imaginations of the first followers of her son, stories of her abound.

James, some say the half-brother of Jesus, collected these accounts circulating about Mary and published them in The Protoevangelium of James (145 CE). One of these treats of Mary and Joseph’s arduous four-day journey to Bethlehem from Nazareth:

And he saddled the ass, and set her upon it; and his sons led it, and Joseph followed.

From that source, the fourteenth-century artist and monk Theodore Metachites replicated Mary and Joseph’s journey in late Byzantine mosaics, found in the inner narthex of the Church of the Holy Savior in Istanbul, Turkey. Ahead of them walk Joseph’s two sons from a previous marriage. Because robbers infested the roads, travelers joined caravans for safety.

Instead of a lowly donkey, however, the artist, has Mary astride a white horse, then, only owned by the wealthy or used by generals in warfare. The horse’s bridle and saddle blanket offer a human touch.

So, it’s ultimately about story, which ones you choose for inspiration, for inner enrichment, those with purpose and meaning.

The Infancy Narrative has always spoken to me.

“It was so disheartening to see miles of litter on the Interstate on our way to the Arlington Wetlands—plastic bags matted together, wads of bleeding paper, food remnants in Styrofoam containers, beer and Pepsi cans, even face masks. What’s got into people to trash our world like that?” asked my friend as she stirred the quinoa in the pot while reducing the flame underneath. “It sure messed with our enjoyment of hiking once we got there.”

Her complaint recalled my annoyance, years ago, while paused at a stoplight watching the truck driver ahead of me flip a lit cigarette through his opened window onto the pavement. I wanted to retrieve the butt and ask him to dispose of it properly—perhaps in the ashtray of his truck. Then, I thought better of it, and the light changed.

Yet, littering a solitary cigarette butt suggests mindlessness, malaise, loss of élan, even varying degrees of depression. Such indiscriminate trashing also seeps into psyche and dumps indigestible particles that fester in generations-long resentments.

I know what this feels like because I’ve been there—but not for long, once I got into 12-Step recovery. Retaining “conscious contact with Higher Power,” per Step XI, is difficult, but doable. Within His grace, we thrive, no matter that Covid-19 issues lurk around us. Scriptures challenge us to emerge from within the fire—the First Letter of Peter 1 :7 and shine with care.

February is already slipping into its second week of colorlessness.

True, a splotch of red will play with Valentine’s Day but then recede into blandness, one that enervates imaginations, yet unleashes insatiable longing.

And winter’s ferocity still stings bare calves, still evokes watery eyes, still demands snow shovels—all bound to induce shivers like frosted prods piercing our psyches and forcing consciousness lest we perish. Life appears inhospitable, as we tear off our boots for the warmth of slippers and a cup of hot chocolate.

But is it inhospitable? For those acquainted with February’s lessons, there is much to learn: subtle colors in blandness, snow tracks of furry creatures, icy-wet fingers sluicing windows, silence on the roads, and most of all, critical moisture for root systems.

Such lessons also correlate with the psyche’s need for resting in the Sacred, a resting toward intimacy with the Heart of God, during contemplation or a solitary nature walk. Thus exposed, we cannot but be touched by intimacy and breathe anew and look for opportunities for service.

Such renewal sparks any season, even our own.

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