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The Patron Saint of Dealing with B.S. and Dreaming

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Noelle Zingarella


*All links in this post are rated M in case*


Today is the feast of St Joseph, and I feel like he's pretty much the perfect saint to go to in the current moment. He knows what it's like to be minding your own business, just trying to get by, and having huge events over which you have no control swoop in and derail your life. The first time (that we know of) that this happened to him, good saint Joseph was following orders and showing up in the Temple with the rest of the unmarried men because some priest decided it was time to betroth all the virgins of marriageable age. He was old--he'd probably already been married once before--he wasn't really expecting much. But he went, and God chose him to be the husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the foster father of Jesus.

Not really what you're expecting when you get up in the morning and head down to Temple.

Then, once he becomes betrothed to Mary, he realizes that she's expecting a baby already. He decides to break off things quietly, in order to spare her shame, when an angel comes to him in a dream and tells him not to cast off Mary, and not to worry--because she's going to give birth to the Son of God. And he does what the angel says.

Who is this man who has this kind of faith that he'll listen to an angel speaking to him in a dream?

After that, Cesar Augustus decides it's a good time to count all the citizens in his empire, and so Joseph has to pack up his pregnant wife and drag her down to Bethlehem to be taxed. And of course, when they get there, they can't get a hotel room and they have to sleep in a barn. And wouldn't you know it--that's when Jesus decides to be born.

But it was perfect.

And after that, because Joseph hasn't had enough interference in his life, King Herod decides he's going to try to murder Jesus. So Joseph has another dream with an angel telling him to take Mary and Jesus and flee away into Egypt.

And he does.

What was he thinking when he packed up his wife and foster son and dragged them to another country? He hadn't been given time to prepare. He had the gifts that the Magi brought, and he had a donkey, and that was basically it. And he had to stay in Egypt for years before he finally got to take his family home.

But he did it, and they survived.


image by Daniel Mitsui+ (aka Mr Z) used with permission ;)


This is one of my favorite drawings that Mr Z has done to date. It's the second dream of St Joseph, done in the style of a ukiyo-e woodblock print. In it, nothing appears to be moving but the angel--he is troubled by a wind that the sleeping Joseph cannot feel. The gifts of the Magi are in the lower left corner, and the angel's fan shows an incident from the Flight into Egypt that is about to commence. This is the miracle of the date tree. During the long journey to Egypt, the Holy Family stopped to rest beneath a date tree. Mary was hungry, and she said to Joseph that she would like some of the dates from the tree. But Jospeh was old (please note that Mr Z's grandfather had jet black hair well into his sixties, hence the dark hair on Joseph in this picture), and he was tired. He didn't want to go climbing the date tree--even for Mary--right at that particular moment. So he spoke hastily in his exhaustion: "Let the Father of the baby gather dates for thee."

And God made the date tree bend down, so that Mary could pick them as she liked. And Joseph felt ashamed, that he had not had as much faith as Mary. But can you blame him? He'd already uprooted his whole life; and while angels might visit him once in a while in his dreams, Mary had a little more understanding of what exactly was going on in the grand scheme of things.

There's a lovely carol that tells this story, The Cherry Tree Carol+. It's a mash-up of two medieval carols: As Joseph was a-Walking+ and The Cherry Tree Carol+ before it wound up in Appalachia. In the American version, the date palm has become a Cherry Tree, and the timeline of events is a little muddled (the birthday of Jesus is said to be January 6th rather than December 25th, etc), and when Joseph flies in anger, it sounds like he's frustrated with Mary and not with God. It's sort of like a multi-century long game of telephone. But the tune is haunting, and the feeling of resignation is timeless.


I guess what I'm trying to say, is that I like St Joseph, because he's been there. He knows what it's like to have  your life up-ended. And he knows what it's like to have to resign yourself to matters out of your control. And he knows what it's like to be frustrated with all of it.

But he knows what it's like to quietly persevere too. 

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