The Christmas story gets me thinking. How is it that some people saw Jesus--noticed His arrival--and so many others didn't? Some people had more of a chance than others--a few with personal angel appearances. (How I wish that God spoke to me through "heavenly hosts" as He did to the shepherds on that first Christmas night!) But lots of people were in the same boat as you and I--they would only notice Jesus if they were really paying attention.
Simeon and Anna fell into this category. They noticed Jesus because they were paying attention. They had both been paying attention for life, had both made a profession out of paying attention to God in the temple. So when the baby Jesus was brought for dedication, they didn't just see another baby whose parents were following "the custom of the law"--they saw salvation, light, glory, and redemption (Luke 2:22-39). They blessed God and gave thanks. They noticed. They experienced God's full goodness in that moment.
It is SO common that I don't notice God. I have gone through the majority of my life feeling distant from God. Close relationships aren't my forté, so I've just assumed that this applies to God as well. Prayer is hard because I don't have that much to say to anyone, let alone someone invisible. I crave intimacy with God, but for a long time, I gave up on finding it. I figured I didn't have the skill or discipline or...whatever it was I lacked in order to experience God's presence on a regular basis. Without a choir of angels singing a personalized message to me, I was out of regular communication with God and figured it was my fault.
And then I learned mindfulness. Mindfulness taught me the art of paying attention to the present moment without judgment. I learned to notice my thoughts and take them less seriously, to experience life in ways other than thinking about it over and over. This meant that I started to experience God in ways that I couldn't do by ruminating. I started to notice God. I woke up to the fact that intimacy with God is not something that I create or work for. It's just that God is with me all the time. Everywhere. Right now, in my living room, as I type this sentence. Right now, with you, as you read this sentence. In the closest kind of way--the way in which we don't have to come up with anything to say to Him because we are just with Him, together, all the time.
This is really good news. God's arrival on earth, and His ongoing presence with us through the Holy Spirit, are not things we have to work to connect with. We only have to notice that He's already here. Any work involved is just in slowing down enough to open our eyes and look. To make eye contact with Him and smile, just as we would with anyone else we care about. To say "hi."
I don't have to feel anything in particular when I notice God, don't have to ask for anything. I just need to notice that whatever the thoughts and feelings rippling on the surface of my being, the longing way down deep in my soul is met. God is with me. "Emmanuel." Giving me this breath...and then the next...and then the next. In fact, He is closer than this air that I breathe. This is intimacy, this is togetherness. Noticing. Being aware. Paying attention to the only moment in which I ever connect with God--right now.
When I do this--wake up to the moment and notice God--I am often overcome with those same sentiments expressed by the heavenly hosts who alerted the shepherds of Jesus' birth. "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward all!" (Luke 2:14).
Peace and good will to you as you celebrate the Christ child this year--God with us!
I am Irene Kraegel. I work as a clinical psychologist and teach mindfulness on a faith-based university campus. I practice mindfulness because it opens me up to God (a.k.a. brings joy). I am writing here in hopes of sharing some of my experiences and thoughts related to the practice of mindfulness in the life of a Christian. Thanks for reading!
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