Every Christmas I recall a certain school crossing guard I saw years ago when I was living in Detroit, Michigan. I never met her personally, but I saw her almost every day as she ushered the children safely across the street at a local Catholic elementary school. I remember in particular an incident that occurred about two weeks before Christmas.
It was about 2:30 in the afternoon. Shortly before dismissal time. And it was pouring rain. As I waited for the light to change I spotted the school crossing guard. She was wearing big boots, jeans, a bright orange vest, and a yellow rain hat. And in her right hand she was holding a big red STOP sign. But here’s the fun part. She wasn’t standing at the corner in her usual spot. Instead she was standing inside the life-size Christmas creche in front of the church! Yes, there she was standing next to St. Joseph—who didn’t seem to mind at all that she was there. Apparently, while waiting for the dismissal bell to ring, the woman had used her common sense and had taken refuge from the rain in the manger.
Seeing her there, I laughed out loud. What a source of inspiration she was to me! First, her big red STOP sign struck me. It was as if she was telling all passersby to STOP! STOP your racing around for a minute, STOP your worrying, STOP your complaining about the weather, STOP your moaning about all the work you have to do. STOP and remember the real reason for this season: the birth of this little baby boy.
In addition, the school guard was, by her very placement, physically demonstrating what many spiritual writers (most notably St. Ignatius) encouraged us to do: to put ourselves into the scripture stories, that is, to immerse ourselves into the ambiance and the action. As you reflect on the Christmas story, for example, put yourself into the manger. What do you see and hear? How do you feel. Or be Mary, be Joseph, be one of the shepherds, or be even one of the sheep. Imagine their thoughts, their feelings. What would their prayer be like? The school crossing guard had literally put her whole self directly into the manger that day. St Ignatius would have been proud of her!
And finally, the school guard looked at ease in the manger next to Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, and the sheep. She looked as if she belonged there. How at ease are we with the great stories of our Christian faith? Do we know them? Do they belong to us? Do we belong to them? But the guard wouldn’t remain in that shelter for very long. For in a few minutes the dismissal bell would ring, the children would come pouring out of the school, and she would begin her work, her ministry, if you will: helping the children to cross the street in safety. (Talk about a pro-life job!)
At Christmas, God calls us to the manger to adore and reflect on the great mystery of Jesus’ birth. But we don’t stay at that manger, for Christmas is only the beginning of the story of Jesus’ life on earth. So too adoration and prayer are only the beginning of our faith. They must lead to serving others, to loving, to helping others negotiate safely the busy streets and major intersections of daily living.
I’ll conclude this week’s reflection with “Silent Night” sung by the German band called “Gregorian.” This group performs Gregorian chant sometimes blending their music with versions of pop and rock songs. This version of “Silent Night” is very traditional and sung in English and German. It’s from a live concert—hence the applause at the end.. (I guess it is appropriate to clap for Christmas!) The accompanying photos were done by Christine Combaluzier whom I believe is from France. Consider this my Christmas card to each one of you!