A Visit to the Manger

A meditation based on Ignatian contemplation.

Overview

Ignatian contemplation of the nativity scene. The objective is to personally experience the glory and wonder of Jesus’ vulnerable birth.

Materials

If desired, you can burn some incense (frankinsense or myrrh to align with the story)

Scripture

Luke 2:1-20

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Quotations

Here it is to be noted that, in a visible contemplation or meditation — as, for instance, when one contemplates Christ our Lord, Who is visible — the composition will be to see with the sight of the imagination the corporeal place where the thing is found which I want to contemplate. I say the corporeal place, as for instance, a Temple or Mountain where Jesus Christ or Our Lady is found, according to what I want to contemplate. In an invisible contemplation or meditation…the composition will be to see with the sight of the imagination

— St. Ignatius of Loyola

Introducing the Practice

Our practice today is inspired by a method of prayer made famous by St. Ignatius of Loyola. After becoming a priest, Saint Ignatius of Loyola wrote his famous work, Spiritual Exercises, as a book of guidelines for spiritual retreats. The exercises recommended by Saint Ignatius are meant to help one discern the will of God in his or her life, bring one into a deeper relationship with Jesus, and help one to see the presence of God throughout his or her life. The spiritual exercise we are doing today is called by different names. We typically refer to it as “Ignatian Contemplation” or “Imaginative Prayer,” though St. Ignatius often refers to it simply as “composition of place.” This method of prayer is designed to engage your imagination.

In Ignatian contemplation, you are invited to use your imagination as a tool to enter more deeply into a moment of Jesus’ life. You are invited into the Gospel story, as you imaginatively place yourself within the scene. You will be instructed to bring the story to life around you through all your senses. What does the scene sound like? What did the place smell like? What do you feel as you witness this event? Be creative! This method of prayer is not an attempt to add anything foreign to the Gospel story; rather, it is an attempt to make this story present in a way that is meaningful to you here and now. In Ignatian contemplation, we allow the Holy Spirit to bridge the gap between the written Gospel stories and the everyday experiences of our lives.

Preparing for the Practice

Have everyone spread out to find a comfortable place to sit where they can still hear the voice of the person guiding the practice.

The Spiritual Practice

Begin by taking a moment of silence to center yourselves, breathing deeply, relaxing and settling into God’s presence.

Read the passage out loud, slowly and prayerfully.

Luke 2:1-20

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Now place yourself in the nativity scene.

Use all five of your senses to bring the scene to life.

Imagine every detail of the setting. The low, flickering lamplight. The cool evening air. All the smells that accompany livestock, and the feeling of hay beneath your feet. (Pause for silent reflection)

Notice the other witnesses to the scene – the cows, goats, and sheep lying in the hay. The shepherds standing around. What do you notice about them? How are the animals acting? What do the faces of the shepherds look like? Do you hear them whispering amongst themselves? What are they saying? (Pause for silent reflection)

Now look at Mary and Joseph. You know they have been through so much. The journey to get to Bethlehem was long and arduous. The act of giving birth in this setting was terrifying and dangerous. But all that is over now. The baby is born. What does Mary look like? Does she seem tired? Does she seem worried or at peace? Is she sitting next to the baby in the manger or has she picked up the baby to cradle in her arms? (Pause for silent reflection)

Now listen to what Mary has to say. Is she softly singing to her baby? Does she whisper something sweet to him? Does she address you? (Pause for silent reflection)

Slowly approach the family so you can see the baby Jesus more clearly. Look at his face. Is he crying? Is he looking around? Or is he peacefully sleeping? (Pause for silent reflection)

As you look at this baby, you realize something. This is God. This vulnerable baby lying in a manger. What does it feel like when this realization comes to you?

What thoughts do you have when you consider how this is the way God chose to come to us? (Pause for silent reflection)

How do you interact with the baby Jesus? Do you bow down before the baby and his mother? Do you ask to hold him? Do you lean over and give the baby a kiss on the forehead? Do you say any words to him? (Pause for silent reflection)

This baby is God’s love come to Earth. This baby is hope, salvation, peace. What do you feel for this baby? What hopes do you have for this power of love made flesh? What do you need from this baby? (Pause for silent reflection)

We know that, in the baby Jesus, God embraces creation. God embraces us humans by uniting with humanity. Got embraces vulnerability. For that, we humbly give thanks.

Amen.

Duration: 15-20 minutes

Discussion Questions

1. What was this experience like for you?
2. Did you feel differently toward Jesus when you approached him as a baby than you have when you think of him as an adult?
3. What does it mean to you that God chose to come to us in such a vulnerable, dangerous, uncertain circumstance?

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