A New Road, A Secret Gate

January 6, 2009
The Feast of Epiphany

Still round the corner there may wait
A new road or a secret gate.
J.R.R. Tolkien, 1892-1973
                         English writer

holi09-badge-jbHolidailies is like Bread Loaf for me. I look forward to it, I plan for it, I particpate in it, and when the end comes, I feel a little sad, but I’m really ready for something else.

The end of Holidailies 2009 comes, as it did in 2004, on Epiphany of the next calendar year. When I pulled up the archive post I felt a certain sense of something being right. I had written about the crèche at St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, the parish of my early childhood, and about how much I’d loved the “life-size” camel my father would sometimes hoist me onto. When I was six everything about Christmas was glitter and gloss, strange animals and magical stars. I didn’t know that the Christmas story is as much about leaving as it is about arriving. While the season takes us out of the ordinary and the routine, eventually we have to resume the work of our lives. If the season has been fruitful for us, we will be ready to do that work differently, and better. “I no longer concentrate on the gifts or the beautiful robes or the exotic camel,” I wrote. “I concentrate on that last line [of the Gospel]. They went home by another road. It’s a call to change.”

This year I had to eliminate or do differently a lot of the things I once thought were essential to making my Christmas merry and bright. I did manage to visit my camel at St. Margaret Mary’s, but those visits had a special poignance. I was a year old when the parish was established, split off from a city parish as the suburbs began growing in the postwar era. It was named for me, my father told me, because he was the first choir director. It was the church where my sister was baptized, where I went to first grade. I was seven when we moved and enrolled in a different parish and a new school, and I experienced that as a great loss.

If you walked into the sanctuary today you’d see right away that it was not meant really to be a church, but to be the school gymnasium and auditorium. It’s a broad open space with no support columns, clearly a basketball court, and the altar is obviously a stage. Put folding chairs instead of permanent pews in there, and you’re ready for the P-TA talent show or the science fair. But the parish grew so fast that more classroom space was needed, and additions to the school gobbled up the land that would have held a separate church.

In 2005, the parish bought part of a large tract of land near where I live. They broke ground for the new church last year, and will be in it for worship by Easter 2010. Thus this was the last Christmas for the old sanctuary, which will finally meet its destiny as a school gym.

I drive by the new church a lot on my daily travels. It is a handsome structure that truly does seem to complement the site. What I’ve been wondering all year is, will the parish want a new crèche to go with the new pews, the new windows, the new altar, the new Stations of the Cross and other furnishings? What will become of the old crèche, now a little shopworn for its sixty years of service?

stmmcamelGoodbye, old friend, I whispered to the camel when I visited with him on Sunday. I ran my hands along the reins, patted his head. We both need to be on our way.

And goodbye to Holidailies for another year. Once again I thank Jette and Chip for making this possible, I thank the panel of readers who chose two of my pieces for special recognition, I thank the other community members who contributed their work, and always, I thank all of my readers.

May we travel all our new roads in joy, may we be surprised and delighted to find secret gates that open for us to good things, and may we meet again next year.




From the Archives
January 6, 2005 —
Home By Another Road: When I was little we went to church at St. Margaret Mary’s in Penbrook, a few blocks from where we lived on Canby Street. The parish was founded a year after I was born, and my father told me they named it after me because he was the choir director. I don’t think I believed him. At Christmas there was a crèche that I judged “life size.” It had a camel with real leather reins and a saddle. On Sundays we got to church before anyone else did, to get the music ready, and sometimes Daddy would lift me up and let me sit in that seat.

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