Reflections on the Nativity


Notes on Guided Meditation According to Saint Francis de Sales

I’ve been reading Saint Francis de Sales Introduction to the Devout Life and applying some his proscribed practices to my prayer life, especially during my weekly holy hour.  One exercise I’m particularly fond of is following his plan for focused meditation upon individual scenes from Christ’s life.  The recommended steps condensed into the simplest terms are:

  1. Place yourself in the presence of God, recognizing He is everywhere and seeking Him within your heart; praying for Him to make His presence felt.
  2. Recognize your own unworthiness to be in the presence of God; humbling yourself before Him.
  3. Using your imagination place yourself in the midst of the particular mystery from Christ’s life on which you desire to meditate. Here a work of religious art can be especially helpful.
  4. Having spent some time placing yourself within the scene begin to make reflections upon it; seeking the lesson to be learned.
  5. Turn these reflections into firm resolutions for spiritual growth and for amending of your life and humbly ask for the graces you need to accomplish such.
  6. In concluding your meditation make acts of thanksgiving, oblation, and intercession

When I practice this method of meditation it helps if I write out my reflections and resolutions. 

Meditation and Reflections on the Nativity

Taking the Nativity as my subject and using the beautiful painting by Gary Melchers above to help me focus, my reflections from a recent meditation were as follows:

Having concluded their arduous journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph suffer the indignity of not being able to find a place to stay within the city.  Seeing that Mary is so young, so near her time, and so exhausted from the journey, an empathetic inn keeper takes pity upon them (God bless that inn keeper!) and offers them space in a stable not far  from the inn.  Mercifully for the weary travelers, the space is safe, dry, clean (as stables go), warm and offers them privacy as the Child’s birth approaches.

I imagine a midwife or experienced housemaid assist Mary as she labors through the night. What a blessing to have been the one to assist such a birth! In some theological circles, there is debate regarding whether Mary experienced actual labor pains or was she spared this suffering due to the merits of her Immaculate Conception and perfectly conformed will.  For me, it helps to think Mary did indeed labor in pain. It helps me to identify more closely with her. (Up-dated to include a link explaining why my perception here is actually contradictory to Tradition)Mary is finally delivered and Jesus is placed in her arms.  As much as I adored each new life placed in my arms as a mother, I cannot fathom the pure love Mary feels for the infant Savior.  She and Joseph are filled with joy.  The stable is filled with warmth and light.  To be present at such a miracle had to have been euphoric.

Spent and relieved, exhaustion over comes the Blessed Mother, as so beautifully depicted in Melchers’ painting.  She slumps upon the floor, leaning against a contemplative Joseph for support.  It is here I most commiserate with her.  Her vulnerability and sacrifice can be deeply felt in her posture and expression having spent her last bit of energy in delivering the Messiah. It is a blessed relief to have completed bearing a child, but there is a sense she knows her labors have only just begun.

This nativity is fairly bare compared to most.  Melchers chooses to depict Mary, Joseph, and the babe alone.  The stable is dark, save for the preternatural glow from the Child and the light from the doorway signaling dawn has arrived.  The scene is pensive, tranquil, and filled with hope. 

Dear sistas, may you find peace, joy, and hope this Christmas season and may God bless and protect you in the coming year.

Information on the artist

Julius Garibaldi Melchers (1860-1932) was an American Artist whose most famous works include the murals War and Peace and are now part of the Library of Congress collection.  He lived and did most of his painting in Europe where he was honored with several awards. As with many of the artists of the day, he favored naturalism and later in his career adopted a more impressionistic style.  He painted The Nativity in 1891. No further information on the painting could be found.  

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