A Christmas Symbol You Can’t Buy
A Christmas story from Monk In The Cellar, the novel about eleven destitute monks in a decrepit old monastery in New York State. Through a strange set of circumstances, Brother Jesse finds his way to the Internet and writes a tell-all blog.
It’s after compline now and I sneaked down here to the cellar as I like to do late at night. Just to be with my thoughts. I spent the afternoon working with Brother Winifred, who we call Kickstart. We all have nicknames for each other, and his comes from his motorcycle days. I feel badly for Kick. He is writhing in the agony of indecision. I'm not sure he has a true desire for this life, only an attraction for its different-ness. I can't tell him whether he is called to it. He either is or he isn't. If I could give Kickstart the answers he seeks, I would surely do so. But it turns out we can never give people what they truly need. We can only help them to listen
When I listened, I found strength to live by and coincidentally the meaning of Christmas. It is Emmanuel. He is with us. There is someone who walks the path with us throughout our lives, and who shows up at the oddest times through a variety of people. It’s like I told Kickstart this morning about that sign you see all the time with the single word saying "Believe" … that says it all. Because miracles are happening all around us. There are symbols of them everywhere.
On my first Christmas away from home after joining the Ardent Brothers as a young man, I was assigned to a Retreat House in New Jersey and was serving on a 4 day Retreat for retired nuns … 40 of them! I woke up in my cell-like room in the dark when my little travel alarm went off at 5:00 in the morning. I knew it was Christmas morning and I thought back to all the times as a boy I had come awake on this day, sure that a surprise gift or two waited for me under a glorious tree festooned with colored lights. That there would be no tree or gift this morning made me feel doubly lonely and rather sad, even at age 24. When I turned on the light a small box wrapped in Christmas paper was on the bedside table. Opening it, I discovered a pine cone, round and open with square woody sprigs sprouting out. The touches of pine sap had dried to a white frosting, making it very Christmas-like. It was beautiful. It was wonderful. I kept it for years.
A half hour later I stood next to an old priest on the altar as he said Mass and I functioned as the altar server. I looked out at the forty women in their religious habits and saw one who might have been the oldest smiling at me. She was beaming and her hand gave me a little wave.
Later at breakfast, I said to her, “Thank you so much for the present. Why did you do that for me?”
“You’re the youngest here,” she said. “You would miss Christmas presents the most.”
I was embarrassed. “I guess I’ll get over it someday,” I said.
“Don’t try to get over it,” she said. “Let that longing, that desire, remind you on Christmas morning that you are waiting on His grace and what you need will be provided. He is with us and He won’t disappoint.”
You know, I can't give Kickstart his faith. But I can give him a symbol. I can give him my pine cone.
Believe and things will happen all around you.
Emmanuel. Merry Christmas!
David Griffin copyright 2012