Two days before Christmas, I’m praying with the story of the shepherds. I imagine myself on a hillside with them, but I’m unaffected by the angels’ song. The shepherds hurry off to see this glorious thing that has happened, but I have no desire to go with them.
After they’ve gone, I see myself sitting alone, missing one of the most important events in history. Eventually, an angel returns and sits with me. Gently, patiently, he encourages me to go to Bethlehem.
“I’ll go with you,” he says. So we walk side by side, not saying much. We walk a long time, and I imagine what it will be like when I get there and anticipate a private moment with baby Jesus.
But when we arrive, the stable is crowded. I can’t even see inside, let alone get a glimpse of the child. I wonder what to do when a woman in the crowd, sensing my presence, turns to see who’s behind her. Her face is aglow. Whenever I see a face in the crowd, it too is aglow.
But my face isn’t glowing, and I never do get to see the baby.
Two weeks later I tell my spiritual director about the prayer. There’s something profound about being in the presence of someone who, as James Finley says, “will not invade or abandon you.” All the emotion that was absent in my prayer comes to the surface.
I blow my nose and add the wet tissue to the others on my lap. “I listened to James Finley talk about the Dark Night and infinite love, and I could feel my desire for God awaken. But much of the time, it’s asleep. It’s so easy to love other things more than God.”
“And where does that take you,” she asked.
“I feel. . . ashamed.”
“I wonder how Jesus feels about this.” She invited me to ask him.
I closed my eyes and was given a picture of Jesus holding me as if I were a newborn. Like the angel that joined me on the hillside, Jesus met me where I was and patiently waited. He loved holding me whether my eyes were open or closed, whether my desire was awake or asleep.
His eyes were fixed on me. He didn’t want to miss the glorious moment when I woke up and saw him looking at me.
Was I asleep or awake?
I heard a voice it said, “Wait,
I know the plans I have for you
plans not intended to hurt or to harm you
though struggles in life tend to get in the way
though the path, looking back,
is more crooked than straight
though so often you find that there’s no words,
there’s no words to say.”
–Jeremy Braacx, Night Vision
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In a recent Center for Action and Contemplation webcast “Through the Dark Night,” James Finley explained that the purpose of a Dark Night is to detach us from loving God on our terms so God can love us on God’s terms. How can we participate in this? I’ll be talking more about that next week. But I want to leave you with a question Finley gave us: What is the most loving thing I can do in this moment?