Holy Birthing: Practices for the 12 Days of Christmas

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What good is it to me if Mary gave birth to the Son of God fourteen hundred years ago and I do not also give birth to the Son of God in my time and in my culture? We are all meant to be Mothers of God.

-Meister Eckhart (15th century German mystic)

Advent immerses us in themes of darkness, waiting, attending, anticipation, and holy birthing. When we arrive at Christmas, do we celebrate the ways we are giving birth to God in our lives? The Feast of Christmas honors God becoming enfleshed in the midst of life's ordinary messiness. Birthing is a creative process, something new emerges from months of incubation and gestation.

The great poet Rainer Maria Rilke writes: "In my ripening ripens what you are." He is speaking to God. I think of ripening as another metaphor for birthing. We have within us visions and dreams for what brings us deep joy and peace. We nurture these and cultivate their growth. We wait for the moment of ripeness. Rilke uses the image of "ripening" or "unfolding" again and again to describe God's need for human beings—and especially their creativity—to allow God to come more fully into being. Our consent to divine creativity, just as Mary said yes, allows this ripening to burst forth freely into the world

In being fully myself and allowing my own process to unfold, I am participating in the ripening of the divine in the world. This is a pretty amazing statement, one that we would do well to take seriously.

We may think of Christmas as a single day and then be off to our after-holiday sales. But what if we honored all 12 days of this season? What if we allowed the space from Christmas to Epiphany to be a time of sacred pause, a time to reflect on the year past, the present moment, and the possibilities held in the year to come?

How might you allow these 12 days of Christmas to nurture your own holy birthing? Consider making this season a time of retreat. Even just 15 minutes a day will create some spaciousness and pause for reflection.


Begin by reflecting on the past year and what has been harvested.

December 25: Pray with St. Ignatius' Examen. In a reflective space, ask these two questions: What has been life-giving this year? What has been life-draining this year?

December 26: Seek forgiveness and ask yourself which friendships need some reconciliation. Is there someone you have hurt through your words or actions? Is there someone who has hurt you? Can you seek forgiveness or offer it?

December 27: Clear away ten things you haven't used this past year to make space for your own holy birthing.

December 28: Call upon the presence of your ancestors to help support you and guide you as you reflect back on what was most meaningful. Is there a particular relative from the great cloud of witnesses you might invite to offer you wisdom?

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Tend to the ripeness of this present moment

December 29: Spend a day savoring the stillness of winter's darkness and ponder the dreams appearing to you in these long nights. What do they reveal to you about your own heart's ripening?

December 30: Go for a contemplative walk in your neighborhood. Don't try to get anywhere, just allow yourself to be fully present to the world around you. What might the trees and crows be whispering to you about the gifts to pay attention to right now?

December 31: Consider creating a candlelight ritual as an alternate New Year's Eve celebration. Sit gazing on the gift of flames dancing around you. How do you experience this holy fire within you? What are the passions that want more space in your life?

January 1: Spend New Year's Day doing all the things you want the year ahead to be filled with—time for solitude, walking in the park, holding hands with a loved one, listening to music, savor a beautiful meal (add your own delights to this list).

Dream of the future and what seeds are to be planted

January 2: Choose one practice to focus on for the year ahead, something that will help support you in creating space for your own continued holy birthing. The practice might be to do less of something—like watching TV—and to do more of something—like spending time in silence.

January 3: Consider choosing a spiritual teacher for the year. We live in a world with an abundance of choices and possibilities. Sometimes diving deep with one thing or idea is just what our heart needs to deepen. Perhaps it is Hildegard of Bingen or Thomas Merton or the poet Rilke. Read everything you can about them and let them be a companion through the year ahead, a midwife to your own holy birth.

12/20/2011 5:00:00 AM
  • Progressive Christian
  • Seasons of the Soul
  • Christmas
  • Contemplation
  • Epiphany
  • Meditation
  • Prayer
  • Christianity
  • Christine Valters Paintner
    About Christine Valters Paintner
    Christine Valters Paintner, Ph.D., is a Benedictine Oblate and the online Abbess ofAbbey of the Arts, a virtual monastery without walls offering online classes in contemplative practice and creative expression and pilgrimages to Ireland, Germany, and Austria. She is the author of eight books on monasticism and creativity including The Artist's Rule: Nurturing Your Creative Soul with Monastic Wisdom (Ave Maria Press) and her forthcoming book The Soul of a Pilgrim: Eight Practices for the Inner Journey (Spring 2015, Ave Maria Press). Christine lives as a monk in the world in Galway, Ireland with her husband of twenty years.