This post is based on Week Four of An Ignatian Prayer Adventure.
When my husband and I first married, we moved over 500 miles away from our families in Kentucky to northeastern Ohio. Every time I spoke, people wanted to know where I was from. My southern accent was quick to point out that I was not a native. I would tell people where I was from and a bit about my parents. To understand me, they needed to know the beginning of my story.
At this stage of the Exercises, the goal is to learn more about Jesus so that we can grow in relationship with him. We are invited to place ourselves in the Gospel scenes in a prayer form known as Ignatian contemplation. Giving the Scriptures attention in this way helps us connect with the text through our feelings. This week we focus on Jesus’ birth and early life.
Watching Mary and Joseph set out on a journey from their home in Nazareth to the city of David, Bethlehem, I wonder if they were afraid. Was it hard for them to leave their families? Did they have to leave most of their belongs behind? What courage this must have taken!
As a woman who left home shortly after marriage, I feel a special kinship to Mary. Leaving my mother and sisters was hard. My sisters and I shared clothes. We helped each other. Knowing that my mother was nearby gave me the feeling of stability and comfort. What would I do when I needed help? Who could I rely on?
I understood the concept of being a stranger in a strange land. The people I met didn’t know me well enough to trust me. They already had their circle of friends. Often I felt vulnerable and alone. Was Mary welcomed into her new community?
Thinking of Mary searching for a place to give birth reminds me of when my third child was born, eight weeks before her scheduled due date. It was too early. I was worried about her health. I’d planned for help to come later. How could I go to the hospital if I had no one to watch my other children?
Mary faced her own struggles when it came time to give birth. How did she receive the news that there was no room for them in the inn? Was she hurt? Or did she know that God would provide for them no matter what?
Imagining Mary delivering her child in a stable, wrapping him in bands of cloth, and placing him in a manger helps me see her humility. This helps me see her as someone who recognizes her place as a child of God, made in his image and likeness.
Thinking about Jesus’ parents helps me see that he came from a family of strong faith. But we know very little about Jesus growing up. Since most of us know others based on what kind of job they have, their political and church affiliations, or who their friends are, information about the early life of Jesus can seem rather incomplete in comparison.
This seemed odd to me until I became a member of a 12-step program for friends and families affected by the addictions of others. We introduce ourselves by first name only. We don’t give out any other identifying information. Like my introduction to the Holy Family, we come to know each other at the important heart level.
Faith, trust, courage, fortitude, and humility are just a few of the attributes on which Jesus was nurtured. Sitting with these scenes helps me to know Jesus in that same heart-level way that I’ve come to know my 12-step friends.