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Locating Bethlehem — A poem

Full body search, and scan
unlock intimidating gates toward
the so-called Welcome Center of
the Federal Maximum Security Facility,
in a late December pastoral call
on a parishioner, lately fallen on hard times.
Seated on those punitive, hard-worn benches
I hold my peace, meditating, wrestling with
a sermon text for midnight Christmas Eve.
Directly opposite, a young mother with her child.
And drawn slow, reluctant, into conversation,
I learn that she has driven weary hours on slick
and icy roads for a first-ever visit to her father –
serving time for drug offenses –
who “had not spent one Christmas out of jail
in thirty years.” Back then, on initial sentencing,
he had urged her pregnant mother to re-marry,
to hide, conceal, deny his own existence.
Recently a new mother, she began to wonder,
ponder, pursued tireless inquiries,
tracked her lost parent down, and determined
to bring him, in her son, the Christmas gift
of someone he might live for, someone
for whom to turn his life around.
Minutes later, across that curiously festive lounge,
I silently observe, as that grizzled old grandfather
clasps fiercely to himself his new-found grandson,
watch that teary-eyed, yet beaming daughter
talking, laughing, weeping with her new-discovered Dad,
then recognize – so that’s how visions happen! –
I have become the latest witness to the workings
of the manger child, have glimpsed afresh
the presence of the eternal holy family.

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