The Shepherd Girl’s Experience

"The Adoration of the Shepherds" by Giorgione - Public domain via Wikimedia Commons“In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night” (Luke 2:8).

I try to imagine night in an ancient land and myself in it, millennia before the mechanical hum of machines and motors entered the world. I try to think of the most natural quiet I have ever known, maybe after a fresh nighttime snow. Maybe the expectant hush that falls over the crowd as the houselights go down and the conductor raises his baton. Maybe a holy hour in the dead of night when it’s just me and Jesus—that still quiet that is filled with presence, the holy, mystical touch of God.

When I close my eyes, I imagine I am one of the shepherds, the youngest of them, very little, nothing but a child, and the whole world exists for me, just as it does for all children.

The air is clear and chilly, and there is dew on the grass. I hear the faint movement of the herds, the soft night sounds of a world at rest. Herd animals have an aroma of their own at night; they take on the warm and reassuring smell of sleeping beasts—it is as though their very slumber has a fragrance. I am quiet and calm and at peace in all of this, even in my own nothingness. As it often does, my gaze turns toward the heavens, the glory of the stars, the vast, hovering universe stretching out over the fields, over me, and my mind is filled with a child’s wonder.

Suddenly the sky erupts with light and singing. It is frightening, confusing, and I shield myself. What could this be? There are voices and beings, brightness beyond imagining, sounds I’ve never heard, and after some moments the sky goes dark again, the stars reappear, but nothing will ever be the same. A startled silence falls over the other shepherds and then I hear the word—though I barely know what it means: “angel.”

Everyone starts running, and I cannot understand what is going on nor do I know where they are going, but I follow along with the others. What else would a child do?

It is dark, but our feet fly. We are light and quick. We do not miss a step. Until in the distance I see we are approaching a cave—only it is illuminated, not cold, dark, damp but a warm, living, glowing sort of place. As we draw nearer, the other shepherds slow down, and when we are quite close, they stop and kneel. I kneel too. I think I should keep my head down, but I want to sneak a glance. There is something—someone—ahead in that cave. Dare I look? A woman, a baby. Didn’t the angel say something of this, something of infants and that other word so inviting and mysterious, “savior”?

We are captivated, speechless. Then one, the oldest and wisest of us, thinks to approach this woman, and the woman says, “Wait a moment,” and then she turns to look directly at me. She gestures for me to come forward. And I can see the head shepherd is taken aback, confused by this, as if to say, “What could you possibly want with her?” He is a humble, good man, hardworking and honest; it’s disorienting to see him confounded.

But I go. Though I have no sense of what is taking place or who she is, it seems I cannot resist her invitation to approach, and when I get closer, I see she’s so beautiful and lovely and superb in every way. She smiles at me, and I draw nearer. We look down on the baby in her arms together.

I say, “He’s so small.”

And she says, “Yes, babies are very little.”

“He’s so soft,” I say, and she smiles and nods. “He smells good,” I say, and she laughs a little.

“Yes, so sweet,” she says. Then somehow I am in her lap and so is the baby. She is holding me, and I am holding him. And then he takes my finger—curls his little fist around my own child’s finger—and squeezes. And I look at this beautiful woman and say, “Look! He’s touching me.”

Her whole expression changes, deepens, and she says, “Yes, he is.”

He is touching me, touching my heart, in this prayer, in this meditation, and in that slightest connection, sending a world of healing, oceans of grace, a universe of glory pulsing through an infant’s grip.

Child, how I love you!

Then I remember the question I had been asking: “Why did you come? Why pour all your glory and power into one little baby?”

And he says to me, not in words, but through that little innocent fist, this helpless little creature, “So I could touch you, flesh of my flesh.”

I believe him down to my bones.

—Excerpted from Jesus Approaches by Elizabeth M. Kelly

Image: “The Adoration of the Shepherds” by Giorgione, public domain via Wikimedia Commons

17 COMMENTS

  1. Yes i loved it. Am doing a retreat now in the summer to prepare for the Incarnation. I love the mystery of the Incarnation. I reminds me of a little reflection I imagined too about that holy night.

    Advent Arrival: Christmas—You are my Son, today I have begotten you (Acts 13: 32-34)

    On the gently sloping green the Ecumenical Christmas service was about to begin. The lambs were sleepy but still looking around for a little grass to nibble on, and the donkey, nervous to be so close to the sea, raised his eyes in supplication to heaven. The concelebrant, happy over the turnout of the local Jamestown residents on a cold winter’s eve, couldn’t restrain himself on the night of the birth of Christ and the start of the live nativity scene re-enacting that miraculous moment. He excitedly coaxed the crowd not to chastise him as he invoked them to turn to the east to witness the full copper moon kneeling in the purple night sky under the Newport Bridge and over the cold Atlantic Ocean. Here was the glory of creation making a dramatic appearance in reverence and proclamation for the birth of Christ.
    Meanwhile, at St. Francis de Sales Church a few miles up the street, the Christmas Vigil Mass was about to begin. It was a beautiful special Mass overflowing with families and friends bundled close together, packing the church wall to wall in winter coats housing human hopes. At the start of the service to the surprise of the assembly the priest proclaimed that this year the Gospel would be both read and re-enacted.
    At the appropriate time from the side of the sanctuary, a young family emerged dressed in clothes from the time of Jesus. They were ordinary and without ostentation. The new mother sat in the chair by the altar. The young father stood behind her in support. In her arms she held a new baby of perhaps only two months old. As the Gospel was read the woman held up the child. The baby looked downward, perfect, smiling, glowing, luminous.
    The church was silent beholding him. He was truly the God in all of us, so pure, so innocent, so vulnerable and trusting. Time stood still. We were in the manger of the past, in the church now, in the heaven of the future. If only we could have stayed that way for all time, it might have been enough. If only we could see God in every living being from the time they were conceived, born, lived and died, and treated them that way, the world would be a different place, a reality only possible with the advent of God in our lives.
    It was perfect moment, a silent night surprise, an extraordinary night when the God of creation simultaneously kissed the earth with his magnificent moon, bowed at his Son’s birth in the nativity scene, and raised him in his arms in the church in front of his faithful, all done in the holy silence of the night.

  2. “So I could touch you, flesh of my flesh.” – That is the whole point of the Incarnation – so God could touch – connect – with us and we with God through Jesus…

  3. Very beautiful and very moving. Thank you. I am late reading this. It is now New Year’s Eve in Australia. I was away from internet during Christmas. So lovely to read this. May you have a Blessed 2018. Keep up your writing. A.M.D.G.

  4. I could actually picture myself in the scene in Bethlehem. How welcoming Blessed Mother was. She shared her baby infant Jesus with the world. Thank you for your God given talent to touch our lives with your words of inspiration. God bless you and Merry Christmas. Happy Birthday baby Jesus.

  5. Thank you! I read this while sitting in my room with a few candles lit. Your words made it easy to deeply realize what Christmas is about. He is so near. What other name but Emmanuel could he have?

  6. This is a beautiful story. She describes a process that mimics my own writing process, a meditative process that was learned long ago at the hands of the Jesuits at St. Peter’s Prep, Jersey City. It makes a difference to write what comes from your soul.

  7. This makes my Christmas! (Actually Jesus does; this touches me deeply!) Thank you. I have forwarded it on to other pray-ers to remind us how Jesus loves me and each of us. So grateful!

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