Everyday Ignatian is a series by Shannon K. Evans, a writer and mother of five living in Iowa who is chronicling moments of grace in the midst of her chaotic daily life through the lens of Ignatian spirituality.
By Shannon K. Evans
December 13, 2021 — There is a man in our town who looks like Santa Claus. His white beard and glasses certainly contribute to this, as does his full middle section, but what really hits the comparison home is the fact that Frank wears a Santa coat all winter long: red with white trim — or at least, trim that I can only assume was once white.
Every December I catch kids (my own included) side-eyeing Frank as though to make a determination: Is he, or isn’t he? The holiday picture books never have Kris Kringle in a floor-length skirt from the waist down, nor with greasy, uncombed hair. My three-year-old’s befuddlement is earnest and understandable.
No, that’s not really Santa, I explain gently. That’s our friend Frank, remember? We see Frank roaming up and down Main Street as frequently as we see him at the Catholic Worker house for Saturday dinners. Troubled and bereft, Frank is most definitely not Santa Claus — but perhaps we could say that Frank is Jesus.
After all, in Matthew 25:35-40, Jesus tells us through a parable that when we interact with those with the least amount of power and privilege, we are interacting with him: “‘For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ … ‘I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’”
These days, in the thick of the Advent silence and darkness, I’ve been thinking about the hidden places of the Nativity, the subtle points conveyed through the story that are all too easy to overlook. It can’t be a coincidence that in the Christmas story God comes to us in the least powerful and most marginalized body: a helpless Jewish infant born under Roman oppression, son of an unwed mother, to become a refugee in a strange land.
The labor of Mary and the birth of Jesus point to a prophetic truth about God, one we sorely need to hear still, 2,000 years later: The Divine is found in the most vulnerable places, even and perhaps especially in the most vulnerable bodies.
What does that mean for us today? If the ways of God are consistent, where are we certain to find God in our own time and place? Who are the most vulnerable ones, the ones unsafe in their own communities, families or perhaps even in their own minds? Native peoples. LGBTQ individuals. Refugees. Black teenage boys. Women. The mentally ill. Frank.
Even if we believe this in theory, we often fail to embody the belief in practice. We fail to defend the rights of those in marginalized bodies by creating hoops for them to jump through first. We fail to defend their dignity when we let that relative’s racist joke go uncorrected. We feed a hungry gay Jesus at the soup kitchen once a month but vote against legislation that would feed his health and safety the rest of the time.
If the waiting of Advent is about anything, surely it is about this question: Where is God becoming flesh right here, right now? Who are the Franks in our lives and in our society at large? May we wait, with openness and humility, for the answer. And may we kneel with compassion and love before the vulnerable baby Jesus — not just on Christmas Day, but every day we encounter him.
The children around us have already begun eagerly looking for Santa Claus. But are we looking for Jesus? Maybe if you’re as lucky as my children and me, you’ll get to find them both in the same place.
Shannon K. Evans is the author of “Rewilding Motherhood” and “Embracing Weakness: The Unlikely Secret to Changing the World.” Her writing has been featured in America and Saint Anthony Messenger magazines, as well as online at Ruminate, Verily, Huffington Post, Grotto Network and others. Shannon, her husband and their five children make their home in central Iowa.