Advent is the perfect time for reflection on the past, the present and hope for the future. The season honors the days prior to the birth of Jesus — a time of waiting in anticipation for Mary and her family. It’s also a time to enjoy the new thing God is about to do in your life.
This Advent season, SD101 will offer one prayer practice a day for you to use, pass along or save for later. Most of these practices can be found my book 50 Ways to Pray by Abingdon Press.
Our first practice is to reflect on Mary and Joseph’s journey right before Jesus was born.
Within the 16th Century classic Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola is the practice of imaginatively entering a scene out of scripture that involves an aspect of Jesus’ life. For this prayer, use your imagination and the application of all your senses to ponder a short piece of the Nativity story from the gospel of Luke.
- Begin by asking God to be present in your imagination. Ask for the awareness to notice this presence.
- Read Luke 2:1-5.
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 All went to their own towns to be registered. 4 Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5 He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. (NRSV)
- On the first reading, simply take in the details of the story. Pause in silence. Then read it a second time, slowly, allowing your mind to visualize the flight to Bethlehem.
- With your mind’s eye, see the road from Nazareth to Bethlehem. How long is it? How wide? Is it bumpy or smooth? Dusty or muddy? See Mary and Joseph going over hills and valleys. Join the caravan. Where are you in the scene? What part do you play in the unfolding events?
- What sounds do you hear along the road? What are Mary and Joseph saying? As you stand nearby, what are you saying? Does anyone speak to you? What is your reply? What sounds other than voices do you hear?
- What are the smells along the road? Linger a moment and imagine what you are smelling as you stand near the holy family.
- Is there a taste you associate with the scene? Linger a moment and notice what, if anything, your taste buds reveal about the scene.
- In your imagination, move around the scene and touch various people, places and things. Touch Mary, Joseph or one of the people accompanying them. Touch an angel or a passer-by, if they are present in your scene. Touch the dirt of the road, the hide of an animal. Notice what sensations you experience as you imagine touching someone or something in the scene.
- Let your full imagination run free at the close of the story read in scripture. Allow the scene to change in any way you feel inspired. Imagine what more there is to the story than what is recorded in scripture. Linger and interact with the characters there. What are you doing? Do you go off to tell someone about your experience? How do you describe what happened?
- When you feel finished with the imagination exercise, think about the meaning of the journey of Mary and Joseph for your life. Consider the way they had to leave their town at a difficult time in their life. What does this mean for you? What part of the story warms your heart most? What part of the story disturbs you most? What insight does your imagination prayer provide?
- Dialogue with one of the characters in the story. Do this in your imagination or on paper — whatever is easiest for you.
- Conclude with a short prayer of thanks for all you experienced in this prayer.
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