What I really long for at this time of year is an opportunity to open my heart more completely to the gift of God incarnate —
the arrival of the Christ child.
Each year, I promise myself that I will plan my Christmas season in such a way that I will have enough time to create an Advent focus. The pull of shopping and social events, plans for family get togethers and promises to friends that we will connect soon, get lost in a frenzy of activity. What I really long for at this time of year is an opportunity to open my heart more fully and more completely to the gift of God incarnate — the arrival of the Christ child.
But when I stop to think about it, this is exactly the space into which the paradoxical nature of God’s gift to us has the greatest impact. We long for peace, but instead experience busy, hectic lives. We long for love but instead experience guilt over not contributing to more charities or making more time available for friends and family. We long for joy but instead experience the grief of unfulfilled longings.
In his book, The Naked Now, Richard Rohr reminds us that reality is paradoxical. Everything is a clash of contradictions, and there is nothing on this created earth that is not a mixture at the same time of good and bad, helpful and unhelpful, endearing and maddening, living and dying. Rohr says Jesus came to teach us about life and about ourselves. Jesus is the very template of total paradox: human yet divine, heavenly yet earthly, physical yet spiritual, possessing a male body yet a female soul, killed yet alive, powerless yet powerful, victim yet victor, failure yet redeemer, marginalized yet central, singular yet everyone, incarnate yet cosmic, nailed yet liberated, resolving the great philosophical problem of the one and the many. Rohr points out that all statements and beliefs about Jesus are also statements about the journey of the soul (birth, chosenness, ordinary life, initiation, career, misunderstanding and opposition, failure, death in several forms, resurrection, and return to God). Each one of us must learn to live with paradox, Rohr says, or we cannot live peacefully or happily even a single day of our lives.
a sincere inner journey opens us to know in a deeply personal way the mystery of Jesus Christ
To engage in a sincere inner journey opens us to know in a deeply personal way the mystery of Jesus Christ, not just to believe or prove this knowledge in a factual or scientific way. If we become engaged with this way of knowing from a mystical sense, we can learn how to face and hold the contradictions, and even weep and laugh over them as we gradually become larger “holding tanks” for the contradictions and paradox in our lives.
This ability to hold together the contradictions in our lives and to create an openness or hospitality to the gift of Jesus Christ, born as a tiny baby yet Saviour of the world, is part of the transformation that happens when we are intentional about our journey of faith.
The purpose of Ignatian prayer is to try to make the Gospel and Scripture scenes become so real to us that we can make a personal application of the teaching.
In the past while, the community of St. John’s Cathedral has been inviting us to explore spirituality and ways of growing and deepening our walk with God. Another tool that we can use to develop our inner space is Ignatian prayer. The purpose of Ignatian prayer is to try to make the Gospels and the Scripture scenes become so alive and real to us that we can make a personal application of the teaching or message contained within.
During Ignatian prayer we try to use all five senses as we project ourselves back, during an imaginary journey, to the events of Jesus’ life. We try to participate fully in the scene and draw some practical fruit for application to our present day situation. If this experience of the life of Jesus is alive and real enough, we can experience spiritual healing.
So here is a prayer exercise to help you prepare to receive the gift of the Christ child:
- Read Luke 2:1-20. You may wish to choose a shorter section of this passage to focus on.
- Place yourself in the scene and become a part of it. Use your imagination to recreate the passage you’ve just read. What would you notice about the manger scene? What would it feel like to lay on the straw? What would it smell like? Uses your senses as much as possible to experience the scene fully.
- Observe the various characters in the scene. What are they saying? What are they doing? What emotions, responses do you notice within yourself as you experience the scene?
- When you are finished with the scene, take a few moments to be quiet and experience any new insights that might have come to you. Are you being called to make any changes in your life as a result of this experience?
May this new way of inviting Christ into the midst of your celebrations be transformational. If you would like an opportunity to explore more of your inner longing to be transformed by God’s presence in your life, please join us at St. John’s Cathedral, December 6th at 6:00 PM.
Wait. Be still. Watch. Awake.
Words of madness spoken
into a city alight
with yuletide. Restless
drivers, exhaust rising
like some toxic incense.
Hurry on to the next
Mall, party, obligation,
Have another drink, chocolate-
coated, and exhausted.
No. The horizon holds
a promise. Time, history
and all creation groans.
Too great for containment
in packages. Hidden,
safe, within the frayed
fabric of a tired world.
Slow. Breath catches deep in
lungs. “I am coming soon.”
Soon. Lights switch from red to
green. We all inch forward.
Jamie Howison, from Beautiful Mercy: A Book of Hours, saint benedict’s table (2010)