“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).
That one sentence took on a whole new meaning for me when I experienced the Spiritual Exercises. Sadly lacking in imagination, I found myself struggling greatly with contemplation, and I was dragging our poor director along with me to the point that I thought he was going to “excuse” me from the Exercises altogether. Nearing Christmas, he had me discard all previous attempts and follow this one simple instruction instead: “Just spend some time holding baby Jesus.” That was supposed to be easier? I expected the experience to be as fruitless and frustrating as my prior attempts at contemplation to that point. But I trudged on, and I am so glad I did.
By the grace of God, I did manage to hold baby Jesus in my next attempt at contemplation. In holding that sweet, sleeping babe in my arms that night, I started to appreciate the humanity of Jesus. Babies have a way of making us feel peaceful, protective, and completely in love. There Jesus lay in my arms fully divine, but fully human, too. Just like any other baby, I could smell that lovely baby smell, marvel at his tiny hands, and count his tiny baby toes. This baby in my arms was completely dependent; he got hungry, tired, or just needed to be held. Dependent, needing, tiny—those are not qualities I had ever really associated with the divine and thus never appreciated in Jesus.
As I held baby Jesus I realized that I could no longer dismiss the trials and pains in his life as being “maybe not quite so awful” because he was fully divine. Fully human is not overtaken by being fully divine. Just as Jesus fully experienced the dependence of being a baby, he experienced every human moment of his life. As we continued to journey together through the Exercises, I began to understand that Jesus had experienced many things in life that I too have experienced. Jesus was loved by his family, he lost loved ones, he was tempted, he traveled, friends betrayed him, and he suffered. Jesus can relate to us on a human level, because he’s been there.Jesus put on skin for me that night in my arms, and that changed me. This Christmas season, I encourage you to do as my director instructed and spend some time just holding baby Jesus. You can’t help but fall completely in love when you hold him in your arms.