Becoming the Manger

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM December 20, 2020

 “While they were there, the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” Luke 2:6-7

Each year as the Advent season approaches, we listen to and enter into the Advent Scriptures and songs from the place where we stand, the place of our consciousness and awareness. Sometimes, we notice the ribbons of exuberant joy and expectation threading through the readings. Depending on what’s unfolding in our lives, we may be moved by the urgings to enter into deep inner soul work and change our patterns of thought or behavior. We may also be among those who have been numbed by despair in the disappearance of our jobs and our ability to provide for our loved ones, in the deep-seated divisions in our country, or in the now empty places at our tables. We may find it challenging to believe that the season of Advent has anything to offer us, anything meaningful to say to us.

At this moment, the daily headlines trumpet an alarming increase in the number of COVID-19 positive test results, the tally of hospitalizations, and the excruciating figure that lists those whose lives have been lost to this pandemic. Doctors, nurses, and infectious disease specialists raise the alarm that we are reaching hospital capacity, that there is no more room to accept the desperately ill.

Each time that very real fear is raised, I keep returning to the Nativity story where, over and over, Mary and Joseph were turned away by that same message, “There is no room.” We have no space. We have no resources. Look elsewhere.

Greyson Joralemon, Unsplash

Perhaps this Advent, the invitation before us is the creative response born of desperate circumstances that Mary and Joseph took: they laid Jesus in a manger. Let’s entertain no illusions. That manger had no porcelain figurines set up inside a warm, cozy home. That manger was a trough or open box designed to hold fodder for livestock. It was prickly with hay. It smelled. It was messy and cold. But it was there, and it was available and open.

Could the invitation of this Advent be all about something as earthy and simple as becoming the manger? Embodying a spirit of welcome and spaciousness of heart. Offering a soft space for the healing of wounds—our own and others’. Emptying ourselves of clutter and the rush of activity, so that we’re fully available. Making room for the coming of Emmanuel, God-with-us, in whatever form the Holy One appears.

Dieter K, Unsplash

This season and always, may we witness to the root of the word, manger: Old French, mangier, to eat; Latin, mandere, to chew. May all who come to the manger of our hearts find nourishment and refreshment. May they be fed by our compassion, our hospitality, our presence. May Jesus, the Holy One of God born into our human condition, be welcomed into whatever manger we find ourselves able to offer this season.

Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Imagine your heart as a welcoming space.
Pray that it may be so for Emmanuel, now incarnate and sharing our human condition.
Pray that this welcoming space may open to all people who come into your consciousness.
Bless and give thanks for the manger you continue to become.

This reflection, “Becoming the Manger,” was originally written for my IHM Congregation’s December newsletter, and it also informed several Advent virtual retreats I offered this month. I hope it continues to have something to say for followers of my blog.

Thank you for your prayer for all who were part of a virtual Advent Evening of Prayer for the Cornerstone Women’s Group of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church, Ridgewood, NJ. Over 50 women participated! Special thanks to Nan Charters, Rose Sullivan, and Kristin Halvey who organized the evening and provided the Zoom wizardry that made our time together flow so smoothly. What a joy it was for me personally to once again have the grace of praying and reflecting and sharing the wisdom of this amazing gathering of cherished friends. You are all in my heart and prayer!

Unfortunately, the Directed Prayer Weekend at the Jesuit Center for Spiritual Growth in Wernersville, PA was canceled out of an abundance of caution. Please remember all who would have been present for these days.

May you and all those you love experience peace and continued good health as you celebrate Christmas and the New Year. I’m ever grateful to be going into 2021 in the graced company of those who follow Mining the Now. Merry Christmas!

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7 thoughts on “Becoming the Manger”

  1. Thank you for Blessing my heart, once again, with your thoughts and words. I pray God Blessings for all you need through this Christmas, into the New Year and always.

  2. Sr. Chris, it was our JOY that you could lead us in a holy and peaceful evening for our retreat on Becoming the Manger. How special that we could revisit those moments in your words here today. Praying for you, your ministry and all you encounter. Wishing you many blessings, always.

  3. What a beautiful sharing S. Chris. You continue to engage our hearts with your insights. I have thought so often this past week about being the manger and preparing my heart to receive my Lord this waiting week. Thank you and have a Blessed Christmas. Love

  4. Chris, this was a very thought provoking piece. Thank you for taking the time to write it and post it. I pray that you too will have a wonderful Christmas of peace, love, and joy.

  5. While you and I come from fundamentally different spiritual perspectives, I very much appreciate your allegorical mind and teaching. Thank you for helping me to continue to think critically and compassionately.

  6. Thank you for your beautiful words on the manger. It was inspiring. Yes things are different this year but we are reminded that this only temporary and we need to keep praying and be there not only for others but for ourselves. Merry Christmas.

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