This year, the moment of Christmas came to me on a bleak midwinter morning driving down Charlotte Avenue. Several months ago, thistle Farms, the bath- and body-care company run for and by women who have survived lives of addiction, prostitution and violence, moved to the corner of 51st and Charlotte. The location is less than a mile away from St. Luke’s community center where my mom worked for decades before she died in 1997.
My childhood memories of Christmas are filled with delivering Christmas baskets and running the toy store in the neighborhood. The smell is a blend of the mulch company and other industries that I always associate with struggling families and my mom’s work. It’s humbling to me sometimes to think that I have ended up less than a mile from where she worked and I still smell it all.
As I drove down Charlotte, a statue of Mary sitting in a lot caught my eye. She was carved from stone, maybe limestone, and seemed fairly common. She was designed to look holy with downcast eyes and open hands. It was easy to imagine a hundred other Marys just like her, bought at rock-bottom prices and scattered around the country.
She would have never made it up against the high-end statues, but was the Mary made for yards and people who just want a reminder that hope is close by. As I drove past, I had a fleeting vision. I imagined Mary returning to dust and an eon of wind and water freeing her, reforming her back to her unrefined self.
There in limestone, in repose under the earth, her power to serve and save would be natural. Then, the image of all the limestone just beneath the surface of the pavement felt like a solid mantle of love holding up the whole city and beyond.
The depth and power of love was as big and solid as limestone itself. It doesn’t matter where we are — we are standing on love. I felt like crying or singing, and so grateful that for a moment Christmas came my way like a star in the east or an angel in a field.
Mary, the beloved who birthed our savior, was still cradling humanity as her own. All of us have moments of vision where sight is filled with grace and love comes down and sweeps us up in its wake. Those are Christmas moments when we can believe Emmanuel, God is with us.
The hope of Christmas lies in the truth that such fleeting visions are enough to carry us through long nights of hardship, injustice or separation.
Joseph’s dream carried him through to Bethlehem and into Egypt. Mary’s vision kept her faithful. The gift is, we have all we need to have a moment that inspires us to be more loving and faithful pilgrims, as we walk over the limestone paths ahead.