Open your heart this Christmas
Bill O’Brien has just completed a collection of his Chronicle columns these past four years. You can purchase it on Amazon.com. Key in “Wise Guyde: The First Forty-Five Columns.”
In just a few days, families will gather, laughter and old stories and gifts will be exchanged and, if your family is cool, a lot of love will enter human hearts. Maybe church will be attended and the Nativity story will be retold and all the beautiful hymns will be sung, including my two favorites, Silent Night and O Little Town of Bethlehem (I love the lyric, “How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given / When God imparts to human hearts the wonders of his heaven”). Sometime around New Year’s, we will all come home from wherever we’ve been, unpack our new treasures and turn our faces toward a return to our workaday lives. We’ve celebrated, and maybe renewed ourselves – if we didn’t get totally exhausted. As the saying goes, “It’s all good.” And, indeed, when kept in a spiritual perspective, it is indeed all good.
If you’re like me, though, Christmas always poses something of a challenge. While all of our prosperous celebrating is going on, there’s a motif in the background. The child that we celebrate is being born in circumstances much humbler than our own. More importantly, he’s charged with the glorious burden of a destiny that will be achieved through much suffering, including rejection by his friends, humiliation and much pain. Not only the nails, the thorns and the cross, but, before then, his tears over Jerusalem: “How many times would I have taken you to myself like a mother hen her brood but you would not.”
What voice do we hear in the Silent Night?
In the “Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola,” he invites us to answer this question not so much through a thought process but through a movement of the heart. He positions us before the Nativity scene and tells us to breathe in the aromas, to listen to the sounds, see the sights, observe the persons present and how they look, what they say. Listen to the angel chorus, look from the shepherds to the Magi.
He invites us to contemplate this baby born to us, to look into his eyes and listen with our hearts to whatever it is this child wishes to communicate to us. We are encouraged to open our hearts and give the Christ Child welcome.
At the conclusion, we speak to the Christ Child whatever comes to mind.
I invite you to do this exercise sometime during the season. Give it some serious time, about 45 minutes. Let its power transform you and gently lead you to expansion. This is not an exercise for the purpose of making resolutions. Also, it’s a time for love, not guilt. Just open your heart and let Spirit do the rest. Your part is to listen, ponder and follow. It’s also not a time for scriptural exegesis!
Merry Christmas to all followers of Christ, and to everyone else, I wish a joyful Season of Light.