Reflections by Jerry Webber

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Cave of the Heart: A Guided Meditation for Christmas Day

[Note: Two or three weeks ago I was praying with the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola. In one particular meditation on the birth of Jesus, the writer described his birthplace as a cave dug into the side of a hill just below Bethlehem. Before reading those words, I had a set scene in my mind for the birthplace of Jesus, a stable scene behind an inn that I had carried in my imagination from childhood.

For the first time in my life, I saw the birthplace as something other than that old scene I had envisioned for decades. I saw the hillside cave in such vivid detail that not only did the birth of Christ come alive for me, but I also envisioned the cave as a place in my heart.

This guided meditation comes from that prayer experience. It considers the birth of Christ, and so it is appropriate for Christmas Day. As I prayed with this image, however, the cave became more than a place Christ as born 2,000 years ago. The cave became an image for that part of my heart where the conceiving and birthing work of God continues to happen within me.

I share the meditation with you here as my Christmas gift and offering for you. If you decide to use it for prayer or meditation, read it slowly. Pause as needed, shut your eyes for a few minutes, and let God's Spirit lead you. The goal is not to get through the exercise quickly, but to linger with the parts of the prayer that seem to have substance for you. And don't be afraid to use your imagination, what some have called, "holy imagination." In other words, don't censor where your soul wants to lead you. Take in the experience. Let it happen.

In a day or so I'll share with you a poem that came to me out of this meditation experience. jw

I sit still and settle into prayer. . . . I consciously take several deep breaths, each one slower and deeper than the one before.

As much as possible, I lay aside the things that preoccupy my mind and distract me. I want to become aware of God, who is present to me at this very moment.

In my imagination I see a small Middle Eastern town on a hilltop, crowded with people who are bustling about and tending to important business . . . Some people are eating or drinking . . . others are talking on the streets . . . while others are buying or selling in the marketplace. I notice the seriousness with which these people are tending to their affairs. The rush of activity is obvious.

I allow my gaze to move outside the confines of the little town . . . down a hillside, to a small grotto dug into the earth.

It is the kind of place created to shelter animals from the elements of weather . . . but in this shallow “cave” are a man and woman, along with several animals. I take a moment to let my mind shape this scene for me.

The young woman is in labor and the man is assisting her with childbirth. I let my imagination fill in the details of the scene . . . what happens . . . what is spoken . . . where I am in the cave.

Perhaps I talk to this holy family, or just stand aside and watch, or maybe I take the place of one of the animals. I ask God to help me understand the significance of this event of which I am a part. I stay with this scene in the hillside cave as long as I’m able.

At some point I realize that there is also a cave in my heart . . . It may seem as if I live most of my life on the streets of activity and in the marketplaces of busyness, but there is within my heart a cave.

This cave is an interior space where the really important things in my life are conceived and given birth. . . . Conception and birth do not happen on busy street-corners, but in the privacy and hiddenness of the cave. . . . I notice where that cave is within me.

I may find that much of my life is spent on busy streets and in crowded marketplaces. How might I ask God to help me spend more time in the cave? If I can ask God for more "cave-time," what might God say back to me?

Then I ask God to help me see what is being conceived in my heart . . . what is being brought to birth within that cave of my heart. I ask God for the grace to find a life-giving rhythm that includes time in this quiet, interior cave . . . and time on the streets engaging daily life, people, and events. . . . I talk to God about both the busy streets of my life, and the hidden caves of my heart. I make this my prayer.

When I feel like my prayer has completed, I say the Lord’s Prayer as a way of bringing the prayer time to an end.

1 comment:

Cat Ray said...

This is really awesome. I recently have been getting into Guided Meditation and noticing a different within my life. It has made me more relaxed and less stressed as a person.