Greetings once more from a very, very cold Zuni. We wish all our friends everything that is good in 2023. We fell behind in correspondence during December and I apologize for the delay in replying to letters. Thankfully, we have now caught up and settled into a more normal routine in the office.
School resumed on the 3rd of January with the students quickly returning to their routines although filled with excitement sharing their stories of holiday adventures. Christmas has not yet been left behind as many of the grades still have to hold their Christmas class parties. Normally these would have been held before Christmas, but this year the week before school ended coincided with “Deshkwi” which is a traditional period of fasting (even from any trading for four days) in preparation for the winter solstice, (celebrated according to the Zuni calendar).
Respecting local customs, the Christmas celebrations at school were restricted to Santa’s arrival and a few minor events. I enlisted a gentleman from another parish to play the role, which he carried out expertly. The younger students were filled with excitement while the older students were heavily engaged in debating who Santa was. I was interrogated thoroughly but I held out and the identity is still my secret.
There is little to report from the school as it moves into 2023. Studies resumed in the usual fashion. Parent teacher conferences are taking place as I write, basketball practice quickly restarted. (We host our first tournament of the season next week). Sadly our head cook is moving to Wisconsin, we will miss her. We presented her with a keepsake a bowl made by a former student. Of Course the atmosphere in the school is filled with laughter and enthusiasm. So, please forgive me if I dwell on the school’s participation in our parish Christmas.
The long-standing tradition of the adults performing a Nativity play before the Vigil Mass of Christmas suffered because of Covid restrictions causing us to cancel the presentation in recent years. I had a strong impulse to restore the practice and I invited volunteers from our student council to take part. From there on it took on a life of it’s own.
I looked for 6 or 8 participants and 27 came forward. I simply refused to disappoint the students and much to my horror, I had to set about writing a script to include all. During the first week of their vacation, every one of the 27 turned up each day for rehearsal. With a sigh of relief I stepped aside and let Ms. DeeAnn, (Computer and library teacher) direct the play. During that week, two things happened to make me stop in my tracks.
The first was on Tuesday at the end of the rehearsal. A third grader came up to me and handed me one of the Sunday collection envelopes from the table at the back of the church. Inside were a few small coins. Obviously, the lad had spontaneously put in the few pennies he had in his pocket. I felt as if someone had given me a gift beyond value. The Gospel passage of the widow’s mite filled my mind for days afterwards. It was not about money but about the utter goodness to be found and brought to the surface in the mind of a little child.
The second was on Thursday. As practice was ending a second grader came up to me showing me a tiny ‘teddy bear’. She said her grandma had made it from some rags. She said simply “it’s for you”. My heart was in my mouth as I accepted the gift. Beautifully made out of next to nothing, I was moved to thoughts of a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, born into poverty in the backwaters of society, yet one who would change the history of the world for those who would accept him.
With unashamed sentimentality that little bear found it’s way into the manger of our Bethlehem scene in the church, where it lay next to the figure of the baby raising his hand in blessing. I hope grandma got to see the image.
Come Christmas eve, our church was packed. I can’t remember when we last had to add chairs to the pews. Our 27 children processed with great dignity into the church, all outfitted in traditional Zuni dress.
Two of the 8th graders called the little ones forward and all seated together, they told the Christmas tale of redemption to the little ones, while older students took roles as Mary, Joseph, shepherds, angels, inn keeper and wise men. Each of these had a few lines to say. With simplicity and innocence, the tale was told and the “actors” were all lost in wonder as the story unfolded. The line spoken by Joseph in accepting the offer of the stable still resounds in my mind. “Any space will do”. We need make only a tiny space for Jesus and he will enter with the blessings we need.
Forgive me if I feel so very proud of our children. Their Zuni dress for the play spoke volumes round the Christmas message of God entering our humanity for all people. The pride and dignity with which the children carried their own heritage was a sight to behold. The generosity of the little ones told me the Gospel message of generosity and goodwill was taking hold and guiding young hearts.
That little play demonstrated the value of our endeavors at St. Anthony to teach the young to take pride in their own culture and let the Gospel take hold so as to experience God’s love for them and let that love flow through them into our word.
The play can be seen on https://stanthonyzunichurch.dyndns.org It will remain on line till end of January.
I know too well that they were only children but I saw so much good emerging from them and thank the Lord for allowing me some small part in unleashing that potential into their lives and through them into the community at large.
In retrospect…No day is really ever routine at St Anthony’s!
Thank you for making it all so wonderfully possible