There’s a prayer practice that would have the pray-ers imagine themselves inside some Gospel setting or scene and from in there let their imaginations roll. Just this week Pope Francis proposed such a scene: the Christmas manger – the angels, shepherds and Kings gathered around the stable, and the new parents at the crib bending over the bundled-up infant lying there, shining with the glory of God.
Letting his imagination roll, the Pope looks to the three Kings and thinks of the different believers who have journeyed long and hard to come to their faith. He puts himself in the shoes of the Shepherds and angels (if angels wear shoes) and from there hears the call to go out and bring those glad tidings, to communicate the Wondrous Good News of God’s arrival to the world.
But then he raises another manger-scene scenario. Francis recalls a custom in many cultures where over the course of the Christmas season, the children in the family add small things to the stable. It could be a little doll, someone to keep Jesus company. Or a toy soldier to protect him, or some greenery to brighten things up, or a plastic dog to mix in with the animals. The Pope suggests that that these extras might stand for the additional items each one of us could place in this setting — and so bring further color and meaning to its import for today’s world.
And so, could I in my imagination place some talent of mine there in the straw to be at the Child’s service.
- It might be the gift of listening, the talent of allowing the inner world of another come out of hiding because of the attention I give him.
- Or perhaps the gift of compassion – communicating to another that we truly share her pain.
- Could I place there some symbol of generosity, say to stand for an extra contribution I give to a charity.
- Could I insert some sign of giving extra time, for instance to visit a sick relative, or to teach English to an immigrant.
Imaginatively placing resolutions and actions around the manger is a prayer exercise that can draw us closer into what is happening there. It’s God entering in and taking up our humanity. It’s the all compassionate Father sharing his Son who comes into our world as one of us. How might we fill out that story for our own day?
Standing around that Bethlehem stable, what kinds of helpful actions and encouraging words could we add to the picture? What types of grace-directed service could we contribute to the scene? And particularly for us in Vincent’s Family, what symbols of service to God’s poor might we lay down at the Child’s feet?
This crèche, this manger gives off so many overtones and associations and evokes countless rich memories. Taking some of them into our Christmas prayer and mixing them with attitudes and actions that continue the story today is to take our cue from those ingenious children through the centuries. It is to add our personal pieces to this Nativity scene, insert something autobiographical into this Gospel account.
In doing so, we weave our own stories that much more tightly into the life-giving themes of this Christmas story. We let the holiness and wonder of it blossom again in our place and time.
What might I place around that manger?