I took a lunch hour this week to rest in silence in an Adoration chapel close to work. On this December 23, I found myself having great difficulty finding focus. Lists of things ran through my head, from last-minute shopping, to incomplete tasks left behind at the office, to memories of Christmases past and how I would miss being in Michigan with family this year.
The altar at St Isaac’s has a wonderful stained glass behind it that depicts Jesus on the cross, with Mary and John at his feet. I have spent countless hours in that chapel, my eyes noticing every detail in the glass. But this day, I noticed that the cross seems to float within a wonderful depiction of the tree of life. The dark wood of the cross has beautiful shades of green leaves swirling around it. This is a beautiful image that I’ve read before in a book about St Benedict, and today it reminds me of a wonderful manger image in The Reed of God by Caryl Houselander:
“The description of his birth in the gospel does not say that [Mary] held him up in her arms but that she ‘wrapped him up in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger.’ As if her first act was to lay him on the cross.”
In the midst of the season’s hustle and bustle, as I sat and prayed with this new, found image of the tree of life, I began to realize that a woman had walked into the chapel. She had a tiny baby in her arms, and she walked right up in front of the monstrance and held the infant’s face up where he could see. This mother, her baby in her arms, then knelt before the monstrance for a few moments, her head bowed, all the while making sure her child was facing Jesus. It was if she was saying, “Behold! Do not be afraid!”
In this moment of grace, it was as if God was telling me, “Behold… Notice the infant… Look at the way the mother helps her child see Jesus… This is all you need to know this Christmas.”