18-year-old Maura stood in the doorway, leaning against the jamb and trying to keep out of the cold wind’s icy grasp. Layered as she was, in long dress, sweater, coat, and blanket with newspaper wrapped around her boots for extra warmth, one might have missed the very large bulge in her middle.
Maura was, in fact, not only pregnant, but in the middle of labor. By anyone’s standards Maura had not been thought of as exceptional or heroic. But even in the face of this cold winter’s night and the desolation of this place, her certainty of decision did not waiver.
Trying to keep her mind off the sharp pains, the piercing cold, and the desolation of her surroundings, Maura thought about her parents’ large, warm house in East Windsor, Connecticut. Life had been good to her and she had always been appreciative of God’s gracious gifts. She was especially grateful for her family, who had nurtured her and given her the foundation in faith that defined who she was.
Looking back on her life now, Maura could understand her parents’ concern about her beliefs. She had always been different than other children. As a young child, she was not interested in jump rope or hide-and-seek, sidewalk chalk drawing or castles in the sandbox. She had just not been attracted to playing with other children. Instead Maura was drawn to the quiet of her room. She was a voracious reader, and read cover to cover the Bible she had gotten from the vacation Bible school she had attended when she was ten.
When she wasn’t reading, Maura would draw or play with her dolls. She loved to re-enact Bible stories or make up stories of miraculous healing. She would have her dolls argue, letting Solomon come and resolve the dispute. Or a doll would be lost under the bed, crying, and Maura would send kind Ruth over to comfort her. If she had been teased too much by her siblings or other children, because she seemed so peculiar, Maura would imagine Samson, or Deborah, bringing a strong and just revenge. But afterward she always felt a tinge of guilt for wishing the others harm. Her favorite person in the Bible was Hannah. Maura admired her faith; a faith so strong that after many years of having no children, God had blessed her with a child, Samuel.
Ahh! Ahh! Ahheeeee!” Maura had not meant to scream, but she had been caught off guard. The stabbing pain came quicker than expected, frightening her. Jose rushed to her side, holding her and feeling terribly helpless. As the pain began to subside, she slid down the door jamb and sat for a moment on the sill. The labor pains had taken Maura’s breath away. She had not known the pain would be this intense. But she could not comfortably sit long and, standing up, she moved slowly toward the fire to warm herself.
Maura hadn’t spent her whole life in her room. She enjoyed going to church. At first her parents were pleased by her willingness to go to Mass and C.C.D. They began to be a little uneasy, when she set up a prayer corner in her room. In the corner she had placed a small table with a candle, a crucifix, her rosary, and other small items that had importance to her. When she was given the Bible, it was lovingly placed on the table.
Maura appeared to change a little the summer her parents sent her to the Baptist Church’s two week vacation Bible school. Neighbors had invited Maura and her siblings to go. It seemed convenient to have the children occupied and supervised for ten mornings in the summer, so her parents agreed to let them go. Maura was attracted by the hymns and children’s songs. She even liked the “boring” children’s messages the minister gave during the opening ceremony. Most important, Maura had discovered a faith tradition different from her own and she was intrigued and fascinated by it.
By the time she was 12, Maura had not only worshipped at the Baptist Church, but she had also attended a Congregational Church, a Friends Meeting, a Pentecostal Church, and a synagogue. Maura’s parents were in awe of their daughter’s unusual interest in God and her strong, quiet faith, yet there was something troubling for them about the growing intensity and seriousness of her faith search. So, while her parents did not forbid her from exploring these different traditions, they in no way encouraged her.
Editor’s note: Check back here tomorrow for the fourth installment in Rev. Bill Sterritt’s modern adaptation of the nativity story. RI Future is serializing Sterritt’s 26-page short story throughout the holiday season. Here’s my post on the Amicable Congregational Church’s nativity story and scene.