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.
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.
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.