And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another path. Matthew 2.12
The view out our apartment window hasn't changed since we arrived four years ago and I started attending church. Its urban splendor continues to amaze me. The stairs from the top floor of our apartment still curl around to meet the bottom floor, and I am often struck at the same place of the descent by how insane it is that I even have stairs. And that when I get to the bottom of the stairs, I will find my children, a New York Times subscription, cans of tomatoes in the pantry, and coats and shoes for everyone. How did I not wind up in a state-funded institution off the BQE making bird houses out of popcicle sticks? What are these stairs? What is this miracle?
Even after so much church, I don't treat my kids nicely all the time. I sometimes get annoyed with my husband, even now. That hasn't changed. I gossip. Sometimes I feel a rush of relief, even pleasure, at other people's failures. I keep a list of the celebrities I've seen in New York City and I have a weird pride in this list because I worship celebrities a little. In the summers, I visit palaces perched on slopes and I dine on their terraces. I didn't sell my furs and work for the poor when I fell in love with my church. I continue to covet. I am often debilitated with self-loathing: I do at times hate what I have made. I wrestle with this beautiful life before me. That hasn't changed. I didn't become a nice or virtuous person when I started attending church. I'm not even totally happy.
The walk from our apartment to church still takes five minutes, as it did when I first walked there four years ago. Our neighbors are the same neighbors; we still love them. Every Sunday morning when I leave for church, the doorman lifts his head from the phone conversation he's having with his 98-year-old Peruvian grandmother and says, "Put in a good word for me," and I do. The Vietnam vet and his partner from Ghana still sell women's handbags on the corner.
Everything is the same since I began to pray. Isn't it? When it rains, it sounds as it did the night we arrived in this apartment, the delicate clicking against air-conditioner units out the window. The rain sounds like the rain against the plastic roof of the back porch in Kenya. They way it sounded against the roof that sloped beneath my childhood bedroom windows in Manchester. What has changed? What will ever change?
The Wise Men heeded a warning received in a dream to take another route home from Bethlehem. They had been transformed by their journey to and encounter with Jesus, but after their awesome experience, did they float home in joy? The new road was probably still arduous, muddy and cold, with irritation and cruelty lurking behind every tree. But anyway, it was a new road---something we all say we long for---and they were brave to listen to a dream and take it.