by Sister Timothy Marie, OCD

Adoration of the Shepherds (detail) Gerard van Honthorst

Adoration of the Shepherds (detail)
Gerard van Honthorst

Sometimes the early morning sky, just before the light of the new day dawns, is so still and quiet that I think I am at the threshold of heaven. The atmosphere itself is permeated in a prayerful stillness. The beauty of these moments absorbs my total being and resonates within my soul. Prayer is easy for me in these wonderful moments alone, surrounded by the clear sky studded with shining stars, and I understand the feelings hidden within that cherished hymn, “It is Well with My Soul.”

Contemplation is like that. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say “that IS contemplation.”

Contemplation is a big word and many people make it far too complicated. It is probably the simplest experience possible to us humans. Yet, it needs no words, gestures, or anything like that. It just needs you or me to bask in its exquisite light, beauty and truth.

This is how we should approach the Christ Child lying in the Christmas crèche. Not with words only, but with ourselves – in the deepest and most profound center of our being – our souls. To look at Him with love. To look upon Him with wonder and awe. To absorb the depth of the mystery of this miraculous birth.

Or better yet, to let the mystery absorb us.

It is a magnificent thing to understand a truth intellectually. It is fulfilling, satisfying, and good. Haven’t we all grappled with a concept and wrestled with it within our minds until we understood it?

Contemplation is different. It is like osmosis. It a seeping-through silently. Contemplation is a gentle breeze softly blowing through our souls. It is a passing of sunlight through us.

A priest once told us during a 30-day silent retreat that contemplation is like water dripping upon a sponge. He said that we are the sponge and that each time we pray, another drop of water is absorbed into the sponge until one day when, sometimes without even being aware of it, the sponge is saturated.

“Ah,” he said, “that is contemplation.”

St. Teresa says when our prayer becomes a loving look, a loving gaze, then, that is, indeed, contemplation.

This Christmas let’s all find some time to sit or kneel near the Christ Child and let us not say too much. Rather, let’s us just look at Him, for as St. John of the Cross so eloquently wrote, “The language that God hears best is the language of silent love.”

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