J. Marshall Jenkins

Author, Therapist, Spiritual Director

Silent Night, Holy Night of the Heart

Silent night, holy night…illumined by the heart

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God (Matthew 5:8).

“Silent Night, Holy Night”: The carol sends chills up my spine every Christmas Eve. It fills me with a peace that passes all understanding, as indeed it should. For the event it commemorates passes understanding as no other.

The carol commemorates God coming in human form to live and die among us. We sing the hymn in a congregation, a neighbor’s front yard, or snuggled up with the kids in front of the fireplace, and we breathe a sigh of relief. After all, the end of shopping, mailing, traffic jams, cooking marathons, and parties has come. However, if we really want to celebrate the mystery the carol tells, we will take it further than that.

For the carol not only commemorates: It observes a present reality. God, Immanuel, is with us. Thus, to prepare ourselves for that unfathomable reality, we must enter the silent night of the heart.

In a silent, still place, close your eyes. Then settle into silence within. Notice that the effort is futile: Thoughts, fantasies, feelings, restless urges to do something come. Yet, there is nothing wrong with you for that. Just note the thoughts, let them go, and perhaps with the help of a sacred word like “Immanuel” (God with us) or “Maranatha” (Come Lord Jesus), open your heart in the silence to divine presence. Then repeat when the thoughts return.

For a while, you very well may find this uncomfortable, even miserable, but be gentle with yourself. The discomfort only means that you, a mere mortal, now step down the dark, still inner hallway to the unfathomable, overwhelming Reality of Love. Yes, this situation is out of control; in your discomfort, you merely experience the fact that life is by nature out of your control. Yet, here in the silent night of your heart you abandon over and over, moment-by-moment, the distractions and illusions of your everyday mental life that shield you from that reality.

Keep coming back to waiting for God in the silent night of your heart. In doing so, you open your heart to the reality that God is not only present but in control. Let yourself dwell in the discomfort if it remains, or savor the calm if it sets in.  Either way, you are on the right track.

After a few minutes, open your eyes and go about your business slowly and mindfully. The placing of every package, the baking of every pie, and the opening of every card become occasions to be with the reality of every moment with openness to God in the silence of your heart.

Now you are starting to celebrate Christmas. Theologian, Karl Rahner, wrote:

Only the one who allows the multitude of things and people and ambition, obstructing the view to eternity, to recede into the background….who allows the earthly lights to go out at least for a little while, because they obstruct the view of the stars….who allows himself or herself to be addressed in the silent night of the heart by the unspeakable, wordless nearness of God….will celebrate Christmas the way it ought to be celebrated and keep it from becoming a mere worldly holiday.[1]

No matter how tired, lonely, perplexed, or frightened you may be, the incomprehensible God is with you. And in the birth of the Son on Christmas Day, God refuses to be remote despite being unseen, indifferent despite being silent, and absent despite your suffering. God is with you in all that and in the details of your life, and if you enter the silent night of your heart with loving expectation, you will know a peace deeper than all relief and warmer than the day.


[1]Karl Rahner, S.J., “Holy Night,” in The Mystical Way of Everyday Life, Annemarie S. Kidder, tr. & ed. (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2010), 19. Rahner’s reflections on Advent and Christmas in this book inspired this post.

The contemplative practice described in this post is called centering prayer. For further guidance on opening your heart to God in silence with centering prayer, click here.

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J. Marshall Jenkins

About J. Marshall Jenkins

J. Marshall Jenkins is an author, psychotherapist, teacher, and spiritual director. For several years he has been writing on the Beatitudes for people in emotional pain, publishing biweekly here on his Beatitudes Blog at http://www.jmarshalljenkins.com. His newest book, Blessed at the Broken Places: Reclaiming Faith and Hope with the Beatitudes, is now available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.


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6 Replies

  1. Michael Parnell

    Ironic you posted this as I am working on my sermon for Sunday.
    In the sermon I talk about the fact that we need to learn to pray in order to prepare in the season of Advent.

    I have been re-reading Henri Nouwen’s “The Way of the Heart.” In it he speaks about the prayer of the heart. He writes:
    “The prayer of the heart challenges us to hide absolutely nothing from God and to surrender ourselves unconditionally to his mercy.”

    In the practice of centering prayer, that is what takes place. We surrender ourselves totally and we find no need to hide from God. For love is there to ease our dis-ease.

    1. J. Marshall Jenkins

      Mike, thank you for reminding me and all my readers of Nouwen’s wonderful (also brief and readable!) book on contemplative prayer gleaned from the teaching and example of the desert fathers and mothers of early Christianity. I’m sure you agree that The Way of the Heart is highly recommended for anyone who reads this post and wants to deepen their prayer life, drawing nearer to God in silence. Anyone looking for a way to move past the commercialism of the season to the spirituality of it would do well to read this book. For anyone reading this comment who wants to take a look at the Amazon page for book, click here.

  2. Carine

    Thank You for this beautiful reflection on “Silent Night “! I also appreciate the link to contemplative outreach which reinforced my dedication to make this a way of life! Centering Prayer 🙏 is a gift 🎁 and so are you and your ministry through these writings.

    1. J. Marshall Jenkins

      Carine, you are a wonderful prayer partner! Thanks for underscoring the wonderful prayer resources offered by Contemplative Outreach. For any reader who missed the link before, click here.

  3. Ruth

    Thank you so much for this, Marshall. I needed this so badly today. Have a blessed Christmas.

    1. J. Marshall Jenkins

      Wishing you every blessing this Christmas and offering up prayers for you.

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