I settled into the chair in the little wallpapered room and admired the candlelit crèche. While I gathered my thoughts, my spiritual director excused herself to pop some bread into the oven. I could smell the loaves starting to bake as we talked about the ways in which I perceived God working in my life. The aroma became stronger and stronger until it seemed to permeate every nook and cranny of the house. Wrapped in this exquisite essence, I found it increasingly difficult to gather my thoughts and stay on task. I was trying to bat away the luxurious distraction when a drafty breeze carried a whiff so strong that I couldn’t help but utter, “God, that bread just smells so good!”
As I stepped out into the brisk air upon finishing our session, I realized that I carried the scent of the bread on my clothes. Only at that moment did it occur to me that, in the aroma of the baking bread, God was making his presence known. God kept interjecting into our discussion.
Had St. Ignatius, the master of “finding God in all things,” been in that little room with us, I’m sure he would have shook his head and chuckled as he watched me trying to focus on God while simultaneously ignoring God’s insistent presence. Coming from a faith tradition steeped in bread imagery, one would think I would have caught on to the symbolism of the moment sooner! But, like Elijah, who was looking for God in the big, obvious places, I almost missed the God of the gentle breeze.
Pope Francis often speaks of bread at Christmas:
He is born in Bethlehem, which means “house of bread.” In this way, he seems to tell us that he is born as bread for us; he enters our life to give us his life; he comes into our world to give us his love. (Christmas Homily 2016)
At Christmas, we on earth receive Jesus, the bread from heaven. It is a bread that never grows stale, but enables us even now to have a foretaste of eternal life. In Bethlehem, we discover that the life of God can enter into our hearts and dwell there. If we welcome that gift, history changes, starting with each of us. (Christmas Homily 2018)
I sat in a house of bread, my own Bethlehem, and almost missed the presence of God because I was so focused on “staying on task.” In trying to control the narrative, I closed the door to the God of Surprises.
This Christmas, I invite you to discover the Bethlehem moments in your life by taking some time to sit with the following questions:
- When might have I overlooked “distractions” only to find that it was actually God trying to catch my attention?
- Where might I have missed the God of the gentle breeze while looking for something bigger, grander, or more complicated?
- Where have I noticed the aroma of the “bread from heaven” in my life?
- Do I box in God and try to control the narrative, or do I let God surprise me?
- Pope Francis says, “In Bethlehem, we discover that the life of God can enter into our hearts and dwell there.” Have I made room in my heart for the gift of Jesus this Christmas?
I come before you this Christmas.
Open my eyes to see you.
Let me not brush you away as a distraction.
Where have you been trying to get my attention?
Perhaps it was in simple ways,
Or even grandiose gestures.
Allow me to notice you,
savor the aroma of your love,
and give me the grace
to allow you to surprise me.