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At 4:20 A, M., I awoke with this probing dream:

The late morning is iced over by spitting rains as mourners climb stone steps of the entrance of the College Church at St. Louis, Missouri. A significant member of the congregation has died, known for her long-standing activism exposing evil’s many faces wherever she saw them—even imprisoned for her work…A fearless woman, she never flinched turning her other cheek…Grief impressed its pallor upon the bereaved as they knocked slush from their boots…I wanted to be like the deceased.

This dream story would be remembered, unlike pieces salvaged over the past month, only to be snatched back into my unconscious; this dream would wait until I turned on the light, grabbed pen and paper, and wrote. Only three sentences were unintelligible in the morning’s light. More meaning would have emerged had that not been the case.

The wintry weather, iced over by spitting rains, suggests the cold-killer lurking in my psyche that imprisons my words beneath glacial ceilings, pinched by frigid waters. The College Church speaks to the patriarchal milieu that influences attitudes, decisions, even actions: all of which had kept my feminine spirit in bondage until leaving, decades ago. Yet, this is the venue that agrees to handle my remains, whenever ….

The fearless woman in the dream story is unknown to me—perhaps my positive feminine archetype. The grief-stricken mourners attending the memorial Mass speak of my own, still attached to this life and bewailing its diminishment and inability to participate more fully. There’s so much more to learn. Despite daily prayer of powerlessness over my demise and of surrender to God’s will, I’m still holding on. Such, I think, is the intent of the dream.

I know this is Creator God’s work. I have only to participate.

It was 1957. Near midnight, shivery blasts rattled the convent’s double casement windows and dumped mounds of snow upon blue spruces and towering oaks. Swirling, cracking, snapping sounds rubbed against the erstwhile silence and quickened the steps of hundreds of black-laced low-heeled shoes along the long hardwood floors, polished for the occasion: New Year’s Eve. The swish of long black choir cloaks fastened at the chin heightened the drama.

Further ahead, I made out the great doors of the Gothic chapel opening out to the older nuns who bowed before the Superior, toed the wooden kneelers of their choir stalls, knelt down, and opened their libers. As the procession inched toward the chapel, steam sizzled from occasional radiators affording oases of warmth.

Four months into my postulancy in the noviceship, I watched, bug-eyed, so as not to make a mistake. Finally, I opened my liber with the others and waited for the pitch pipe’s tone from the Mistress of the Choir. After I adjusted my wool skirt on the kneeler, I gazed at the sanctuary, where thick beeswax candles shadowed the altar and other furnishings.

Then a short beep signaled everyone to grab their opened libers and stand facing each other as the Miserere was intoned, a psalm pleading God’s forgiveness for sins committed in the year, 1957. Then, followed another ancient Latin hymn, the Te Deum, heartfelt thanksgiving for its graces.

Just as the tower bell gonged midnight, the Jesuit celebrant began Mass, in union with the praying church all over the world. No matter the blight of racial integration in our country, no matter Sukarno’s expulsion of the Dutch from Indonesia, no matter the world’s excesses—deep Peace’s embrace revealed another realm and we were in it.

I’ve never forgotten that night.

Christmas abounds with stories, a memorable one having appeared in the December 1997 local paper about a young family that occurred in a St. Louis suburb. At the time, it generated much interest.

Paul, husband to Mary and father of four children, was known for his humor—even by the neighbors. Rarely did a month pass without one of his whimsical tricks lightening spirits. He also loved to decorate their home at Christmas; central to this effort was a large creche spotlighted on their front lawn. Placing the Baby Jesus in the straw-filled manager before attending Midnight Mass had become a cherished tradition.

However, before last year’s Christmas, Paul died of a virulent cancer, but Mary went ahead with the decorations and placed Baby Jesus in the manger before heading over to the church. 

Upon their return home, one of the children noticed the empty manger and began crying. This was too much, the mother thought as she approached the creche. Even more so was the letter she found in the manger:

Dear Mary and the Kids,

The St. Louis winters are too much for me, so I’ve gone to the beach in Florida. I love you all and will keep in touch.

The Baby Jesus

What was even more curious were the arrival of postcards on the twenty-fourth of every month, all sent from Baby Jesus, from different parts of the country.

This Christmas Eve, the decorations in place, the doorbell rang as the family enjoyed supper. It was an airport driver, his dark eyebrows locked in a quizzical expression, carrying their Baby Jesus, a pink plastic suitcase, and a letter. The kids crowded behind Mary as she received the items in her sweatered arms, all the while, heaving with the unknown.

         “The letter! The letter!” said the kids craning their necks for a closer look.

After she placed the Baby Jesus and the suitcase on the coffee table, she flopped upon the sofa, her ringed hand trembling as she tore open the envelope. Yes, always the same handwriting.

Dear Mary and the Kids,

At last, I’m so glad to be home again. The pink plastic suitcase is filled with mementos of where I’ve been: several for each of you. I hope you like them.

Love,

Baby Jesus

Later, Mary learned that Paul, with help from friends across the country, had rigged this conundrum, knowing that she and their children would have trouble grieving his loss. It worked.

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