December 2013

An Emmanuel moment

God is breaking through, inviting you and me to open our ears, eyes and hearts to bring about God’s reign, says Good Samaritan Sister Pam Grey.

BY Pam Grey SGS

It was the beginning of the school holidays and I was aware that Fatimah could have her four boys, including twin three-year-olds at home, while we had our English tutoring lesson. I came prepared with large sheets of paper and pencils for the boys. Fatimah, cradling her three-month-old daughter, smiled as she opened the door. There was no sound or sign of the twins. They were at playgroup till midday.

The two older boys, Haziz and Mukhtaar, sat at our feet and watched our attempts at conversation. They eagerly supplied an Arabic translation or an English word or two to help us out. They are proud of their Mum.

When the baby fell asleep, I gave the boys the pencils and paper and they were engrossed in their own thoughts as they drew. Meanwhile, Fatimah and I stumbled along with both word and mime and some laughs in between.

After a while I glanced down at the boys and their drawings. The older boy, Haziz, had filled his paper with a drawing of a house. It was the classic drawing – a triangular roof upon a square with two windows and a centrally placed door. (No chimney). He looked up with bright eyes when he realised we were watching him. He told me about his new home with vegetables growing in the backyard. He wanted to grow watermelons too, big ones!

When I saw Mukhtaar’s art I understood that he, too, had a story to tell. At the top of his page he had drawn a large plane complete with windows, wings and a tail. At the bottom of his paper he had drawn his father’s car, with a learner plate.

But my heart sank when I realised what he had drawn in the centre of his page. It was of a boat on fire, with smoke pluming out; the waves were big and choppy. Mukhtaar’s picture story was moving and stark, expressing the heart of the trauma of fleeing hatred and searching for peace.

Fatimah’s face grew gaunt and silence fell. Then her baby stirred and as I leant over and touched her tiny hand, her fingers curled around mine and she gave a baby smile. Her mother’s face softened as we shared this moment of gentle joy.

It was an Emmanuel moment – God is with us.

Now I understand David Tacey’s insight that “Faith breaks through when we let go and know that something greater than ourselves is present.” This family drew me into their lives and shared it with me, with the young boy and the little baby leading the way.

There is a parallel story that we remember each Christmas of a young Middle-Eastern couple being drawn into something much bigger than themselves. We know the story of Mary and Joseph travelling far from home because of political turmoil and decrees. We can imagine the stress of Joseph trying to find a sheltered place amongst strangers for Mary to give birth. We witness how evil can enter a heart bent on destroying a rival, even a new-born babe. When Joseph hears of Herod’s treachery, he gathers his wife and their son in the dark of night and together they flee until finding refuge in Egypt.

This story is repeated so often in our day. People are on the move because of the destruction of cyclones, earthquakes and bushfires, by threats of nuclear contamination, persecution, violence and hunger.

What will become of this generation of children? There are so many mothers and fathers pondering all these things in their hearts and taking whatever actions they can to survive.

On their return from Egypt what happens next to Joseph and his family? Joseph, a Judean, must take his family away to Galilee instead and make his home in a nondescript village called Nazareth. And within the crucible of culture, religion, relationships and work in Nazareth town, Jesus grows into maturity.

Then one day Jesus deliberately travels alone into the wilderness and climbs a high mountain and views the many kingdoms below. Through a series of struggles he gains insight into what he really stands for. Something is asked of him as he faces the reality of life in the dark valleys below.

Like Jesus, God invites each of us to play our part in the restoration of our world. God is breaking through, inviting you and me to open our ears, eyes and hearts to bring about God’s reign – a reign where the homeless stranger becomes neighbour, where people who hunger and thirst find relief, and where people at the crossroads of life find goodness and mercy. Jesus knew with whom he stood and sought them out.

When we look at the world today, where is God calling us? What is God asking of us? Is God drawing us to something beyond ourselves? As we prepare to celebrate the feast of God with us, may we be open to God inviting us to let our faith show itself in love (Galations 5:6).

Pam Grey

Melbourne-based Good Samaritan Sister Pam Grey is a writer and poet. She also volunteers as a home tutor for newcomers to Australia who need language and resettlement support.

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