Contemplating the birth of Jesus can be a wonderful experience. And doing this in everyday life can be very powerful. Last week’s helps included some basic advice for contemplating a Scripture passage in prayer period and in an everyday-life context.
We’re all very familiar with the Christmas story, and we have images of the nativity scenes. This week, let’s enter more deeply into the story by entering into the reality of the birth of Jesus and what it says about who Jesus is.
Each morning, when I put on my slippers or robe, I can recall what it is I wish to fill the background of my day. In the first few days of the week, I can let the stage be set. In the middle of the week, I can witness the birth itself. Later in the week, I can spend time with Mary, Joseph, the child, and the shepherds. Perhaps over the weekend, I can review the story through Matthew’s eyes and the tyranny of Herod and the visit of the wise men and the flight into Egypt.
If we take time for prayer periods this week, it will be possible to imaginatively enter the scenes.
I could, for example, imagine being a young friend of Mary and Joseph. I could visit them frequently during Mary’s pregnancy and delight in watching her sing the psalms to her child, who is listening in the womb. I listen to the faith-filled conversation of Mary and Joseph, and I watch Mary rub her stomach, as if to comfort the child with their faith. I can experience my own joy as Mary invites me to touch her belly and feel the child’s developing movements. I can even take the time to tell Mary and Joseph my gratitude for their openness and their “yes.” I can tell them how grateful I am for their son and for this privilege to enter into and witness the very beginning of his life. I can tell them anything I want to about my life and what I’m facing today. At this point in the retreat, Mary and Joseph can become great friends for my own life’s journey. Perhaps I can be there when the news of the census arrives. How do they deal with their anxiety? Can I capture and remember their exact words to each other?
As I accompany them on the journey to Bethlehem for the census, what is that journey like? The roads, the fatigue, the fear, their conversation? Are they handling this differently than I have handled similar challenges or crises? What words of faith is the child hearing along the way from within the womb?
What is it like for them to not be able to find a place to stay? How is the child experiencing the words “No, no room for you here,” “No, no welcome for you here”? Can I capture and remember their exact words to each other as they go from place to place? And what was it like when they had to settle for the place where the animals stayed? Imagine every detail, with every sense. Did they see the beauty of the place? Did they know how fitting, even perfect, it was?
How close can I get to the birth? As close as I’d like. If I’ve had a baby or seen a birth, I can imagine Mary welcoming my presence. What words do I offer her? As the contractions begin, what words pass between Mary and Joseph? Do they speak to the child in the womb? Can I get close enough to experience the birth and experience its meaning? Can I receive the newborn child in my arms? Warm and covered with blood, lungs screaming, arms outstretched? Can I wrap him in warm clothes and lay him on the bed of hay, in the very place where the animals feed? Can I feel, deep inside, for me; this is for me?
In the following days, what do we say to one another? As I imagine the arrival of the shepherds, what is the scene like? When they leave, can I image Mary and Joseph speaking to their son about how he will some day give his life to bringing good news to the poor?
If we let ourselves enter into these scenes this imaginatively, it will be easy to walk around in our busy lives with these images in our consciousness. And then everyday events will take on these powerful elements: anxiety, faith, fear, anticipation, journey, hardship, unexpected roadblocks, lack of acceptance, alternative plans, poverty, simple beauty, beds of hay as places of nourishment, simple acceptance. And all day long, I can be seeing and recognizing and connecting — carrying on a conversation, remembering words, noting my feelings.When I go to bed each night, I can express my gratitude for what I was privileged to experience this day. I can offer my words to Jesus to say how much more I wish to be with him in his mission, for I am falling in love with him, because he is letting me see who he really is.