God in the Dock by Nicole d’Entremont

Some years ago, while living in Albuquerque, New Mexico, I was evicted from my apartment. I didn’t have much time to think about it, it being a fast-moving and brutal procedure. There was no pro bono legal advice available or mediation procedure in place, so I defended myself. I lost the case in a brief hearing along with a conciliatory nod from the presiding judge informing me I had a good case for appeal. I didn’t have money for that and I was ready to leave New Mexico.

This all happened around Christmastime. I remember clearly walking downtown to deliver a folder necessary to submit to the landlord’s lawyer in accordance with the legal process of discovery so both sides knew what evidence would be presented during trial. Upon locating the office building, going up the elevator, and opening the door, I found an office party in festive process. It was a scene out of Dickens’s Scrooge and Marley.

I recently had a second visitation to eviction court where I live in Maine this past Christmas season. I was accompanying a young friend who, along with her 10-year-old daughter, was in the process of being evicted from the home they rented. In Maine, however, there is a mediation procedure in place, and my friend had secured a lawyer from Pine Tree Legal Assistance, a program available for low-income residents. Perhaps unavoidably, the New Mexico courtroom experience began to have a parallel half-life for me. The rituals were similar: the room packed; the black suits, mostly lawyers; the decorum, hushed; no one speaking out of turn or, if they did, getting sanctioned. Esoteric muffled language replete with acronyms and numbers was exchanged between the judge and lawyers. When another Nicole’s name was called to appear, I flinched, body memory being strong even at this remove.

Ninety-seven eviction cases were on the docket that day of December 8, 2022, in the Cumberland County Courthouse in Portland, Maine. At some distance from the bench, the defendants sat silently, erect and at attention lest they miss their names being called by the judge. People around me wore serious or blank expressions. Even the one baby in the courtroom was mute.

Here was basic ordinary time evidenced in a secular North American courtroom. Doors open immediately at nine o’clock and events happen in an organized sequence, one after the other, without dawdling or wasted motion. After all, time is money, insures progress, the well-oiled machine of commerce and social mobility. But there is another way of looking at time that postulates not a purely sequential but a spiritual, transformative construct.

According to the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), Ordinary Time in the Roman Catholic ecclesiastical church calendar is spoken of as “a time for growth and maturation, a time in which the mystery of Christ is called to penetrate ever more deeply into history . . . The Sundays and weeks of Ordinary Time . . . take us through the life of Christ. This is the time of conversion. This is living the life of Christ.”

My question is, where would this historical Christ have been in the courtroom I have just presented? Would he be sitting behind the bench peering over his spectacles? Or would he be silently sitting in rows removed and beyond the bench with the rest of us waiting for a name to be called?

And what would have been the background of that Christ appearing in this courtroom? He would have been the son of parents who had not even a home to be evicted from but only a stable needed for his birthing. He would have been the son of parents who had to flee to safe quarters in a foreign land to escape an unjust, cruel, and arbitrary governmental decree. They would later return to their native village when the coast was clear for the child to lead what one has to assume would be a simple life as the son of a carpenter. He was probably a fairly normal kid, bright, curious, though predictably, as he moved into adolescence, a bit headstrong, cutting out from his parents during festival time in Jerusalem to hang out for three days in a synagogue peppering ecclesiastical authorities with questions and doctrinal opinions and then having the teenage umbrage to mildly scold his mother for looking for him while he was about his “Father’s” business. All seems very age appropriate until the miracles start to happen and the crowds start to follow and ordinary time starts taking extraordinary turns.

What’s all this have to do with a courtroom in southern Maine during an eviction hearing? What is ordinary about any kind of time? What is ordinary about the circumstances of our lives propelling us into situations determined to throw us off the predictable path? We all find ourselves there. It’s called living. It’s Dante’s dark wood. Or the job that fell through. Or the house that burned. Or the kid who broke an arm in the supposed “ordinary act” of climbing a tree. I think “ordinary” is a false narrative that does not take into account the real inward and outward tug-of-war most lives live day by day.

There was nothing ordinary about any of the people I spent time with on that December 8, 2022. Not the lawyers, not the judge, not the defendants nor the plaintiffs. We were all called on that day to be tumbled and jumbled together in what was disguised as “ordinary” time. Some were damaged that day. Some were placated. I suppose some succeeded. Had I been the judge, the only sentence I would have rendered would have been the elimination of eviction court.

I don’t know what happened to the other 96 of those eviction cases. In my friend’s case, the smart Pine Tree Legal Assistance lawyer, a woman in a bright orange blouse, white sweater, and black skirt, mediated a two-month stay of my friend’s order, thus giving her extra time to secure other housing. Not an optimal solution, but certainly better than a 10-day notice to evict.

So, where was the living life of Christ on December 8, 2022, in eviction court, and how was he “penetrating history”? Was he with the judge and the lawyers, or was he seated quietly beside all of us there in the soporific drone-drowsiness of the courtroom? Did he huddle with the lawyers and the judge to parse legalisms, or did he go outside with us as we sat waiting quietly for a mediation room to open up? Maybe he just accompanied the mother who was walking up and down the hall with her baby, or was there standing quietly next to the asylum seeker from Congo who needed a translator when his case came up before the judge.

Now the great feast of Christmas is over and the unpredictable rough and tumble of the gospel begins. There will be the baptism, then there is that wedding feast in Cana. The crowds will continue to follow him more than ever. They will want a lot. They will want everything: Food. Cures. Truth. I wonder how he stands it? Maybe the historical Christ needs our company more than our prayers. Maybe he needs someone to walk beside him as he walks beside all those others in eviction courts or homeless shelters or border towns, or tucked up to a bar or sitting with someone who’s trying not to tuck up to a bar. Maybe, instead of church, that’s where we’ll find Christ in Ordinary Time.

Nicole d’Entremont is a writer living on Peaks Island, Maine.

Image: A Courtroom Scene, José Guadalupe Posada, ca. 1880–1910.

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2 replies
  1. Fran Salone-Pelletier W-1
    Fran Salone-Pelletier W-1 says:

    This was a challenge for all of us who call ourselves members of God’s family. The harsh rule of law rendered without compassion or mercy is too frequently applied in too many circumstances—both in and outside a courthouse. Sadly, it resides in the courtroom of church, state, and our own personal lives. Thanks, Nicole, for making it crucially real.
    Fran Salone-Pelletier


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