Contemplating the hidden life of Jesus can be challenging at first. We might be frightened off by the near absence of scriptural stories to use as a base for prayer. But with a bit of imagination and freedom — and with energy from our growing fascination with Jesus — this can be a wonderful week. And doing this in everyday life can be very powerful. The last two weeks’ helps included some basic advice for contemplating a Scripture passage in a prayer period and in an everyday life context.
We might begin by an internal process of gathering data. What do I know about how infants develop into little children, and how children develop into teens, and how teens become young adults, and how young adults face full adulthood? We know that the stages of growth involve facing crises. We know parents are critical. We know peers are critical. We know that early choices shape the context for future choices. And we know Jesus went through all these stages of growth and development. Luke tells us, “The child Jesus grew. He became strong and wise, and God blessed him” (Luke 2:40).
Now to give shape to our imaginings about Jesus’ growing-up years, we turn to what we know about how he turned out. We actually do this all the time. We look at someone, particularly someone we dislike or who we think didn’t turn out too well, and we begin to make assumptions about what that person’s childhood was like. Or we might meet a college-age student who is just wonderful and say that the parents must have done something right in raising him or her.
The Gospels help us tremendously in knowing who Jesus is today. The Jesus who loves me today, the Jesus I speak with in prayer, has holes in his hands. We know he’s comfortable with sinners and women and others whom society of our day might be uncomfortable with. We know that he is familiar with everyday life, using images about baking bread and growing things and going to weddings and talking about how property owners manage their affairs.
Then we are ready to concretize our imagination by setting up scenes. We might begin by getting a concrete picture of what Mary and Joseph’s house in Nazareth might have been like. It helps to get as detailed as possible. How many rooms are there? How big are they? What happens in each room? What’s the furniture like? Where do they sleep, cook, eat, welcome visitors? Where’s Joseph’s carpenter’s shop? What’s it like? Then we might imagine the layout of the village of Nazareth. Where do children play? Where’s the well? The synagogue? The market? The wedding hall? The cemetery?
Now we are ready to imagine ordinary life events that surely happened in the life of Jesus. As we imagine them and walk around in those scenes and let ourselves become a character in those scenes, experiencing and learning about Jesus, we let our Lord reveal whatever he wants to reveal to us. We can imagine any ordinary life crisis, developmental crossroad, key situation in which we develop character, or any genuine human interaction. We picture what happens, what people say, what we experience in that scene ourselves. The beauty of this kind of contemplation is that the details don’t have to be historically accurate. The context provides an environment and an entry point for us to be open to meeting Jesus.
Some scenes we might want to develop and contemplate: very early moments as Mary and Joseph learn to care for Jesus, feed him, change him; their teaching him to talk, to walk; their having to train him, correct him, discipline him; meal scenes, playtimes, prayer time; Jesus learning to read; their taking him to his first wedding, his first funeral; Jesus beginning to help in the carpenter’s shop; his emerging peer relationships with young guys, the crises faced there; Jesus’ first adolescent encounters with young women, the crises he faced there; how the family faced typical problems with relatives or neighbors; Jesus as a carpenter’s apprentice, his delivering furniture, his building a home; the family’s dealing with the aging, illness, and death of Joseph.
At first it seemed there would be nothing there to contemplate, that it was indeed a hidden life. Now we see there is so much to learn about Jesus. None of us will have time for it all, certainly not in one week, but entering into Jesus’ life somewhere and letting him reveal something about himself will be grace filled. This is quite possible in our busy lives, particularly as our curiosity and fascination for Jesus grow.