As we move full steam ahead into the Christmas season, do you feel torn between two worlds—the secular world, which tugs at us to hurry up, push harder, and jam pack more into the weeks before Christmas—and the spiritual world which invites us to slow down, reflect, and prepare our hearts for the celebration of God’s self-revelation through human flesh?
I bet Mary found herself in those two worlds. As she went about her daily chores helping her mom and dad, excited about her upcoming wedding, an angel appeared and told her she was pregnant with the Savior of the World. Those in the secular world (and I bet her parents at first) were probably angry at Mary. “What do you mean you’re pregnant? Do you realize Jewish law requires that unwed mothers be stoned?”
But somehow, Mary stepped into the spiritual world. She pondered. She listened deeply, contemplated, and eventually got to the place in her heart where she told God, “Let it be done to me according to your word.”
And what about Joseph? He was probably just as excited about his upcoming wedding and his new life as a married man. And out of the blue, Mary zapped him with the news she was pregnant.
“Seriously?” I imagine he said. “Did you? How’d you? This can’t be. You’ve brought shame to my family. I must break our engagement—and you’d better leave town before the villagers find out and stone you.”
How did Joseph move from wanting to quietly divorce Mary to trusting they were part of God’s divine plan?
The common thread, the story that’s hidden in Mary and Joseph’s lives is the gift of solitude, contemplation. We don’t see it emphasized in scripture, but I have to believe both Mary and Joseph took time each day to remove themselves from the noise of the secular world to ponder and ask God in the silence of their hearts for wisdom to know—and then the courage to do—what God asked of them.
According to Saint Teresa of Avila, contemplation is the daily practice of taking time for solitude, silence, and interior prayer. It’s the pathway to inner peace. It allows each person to experience God directly and to cultivate the interior connection between one’s Soul and the Divine.
Thomas Merton wrote that not all are called to be hermits. Unless we’re monks living in desert caves, we too live in both the secular and spiritual worlds. And maybe the key to living in both successfully is taking time each day to be in God’s presence—to have enough silence and solitude in our lives to enable the deeper voice of our own self to be heard.
Perhaps Mary, Joseph, Saint Teresa, and Merton are pointing us to the hidden gift of Christmas—spending time alone each day with God to talk and listen with him, to figure out where and how he’s leading us, and to realize God is with us—always.
What if preparing our hearts for Christ wasn’t something we do only in December? What if it were a spiritual practice we adopted by spending time every day in solitude?
What if saying yes to God’s invitation for daily contemplation is our gift to the Creator?
—brian j plachta