Since Advent began, we have been waiting for Christmas. For most children, since they returned to school after Halloween, they have been inundated with messages about Christmas. Between targeted ads on television and social media and huge displays on the streets and in the shops, the overriding message has been about wanting more. This makes it difficult for parents and grandparents to communicate the real joy of Christmas.
Over 2000 years ago, Jesus came into the world to change how we think about God. But we can make the mistake of thinking about Christmas merely as a historical event that happened a long time ago. However, one of the main reasons we celebrate Christmas every year is to remind ourselves that if we are to bring about the kind of world that Jesus envisioned, then each one of us must give renewed birth to Christ within our heart.
Christ resides in every living thing, and in each of us. But it is up to us to become Christ-like in our behaviour, in how we live our lives. What does it mean to become Christ-like? It means to love God and love your neighbour who is, ultimately, yourself. In other words, to recognise that we are all children of God and nothing fundamental separates any one of us from the other. Instead, what is fundamental unites us. Meditation helps us to appreciate this, to apprehend this deeply, to appropriate its truth for ourselves.
ME, reflected in the deep waters of meditation, becomes WE. Meditation changes how we see the world. Children have described to me how meditation helps them “to feel the goodness inside” and to discover the freedom “to be themselves”. Meditation made them deeply aware of their innate goodness as children of God, their original blessing. Children come to appreciate at a very deep level – experientially rather than cognitively – that this goodness is who they really are. They appreciate too that this same goodness resides in every other person and, indeed, in every living thing. They apprehend at some level of their being that they are intimately connected to God and to every other person and this changes their way of seeing and being in the world. And they become kinder persons as they begin to live more deeply out of that understanding.
They come to appreciate that everything isn’t about ‘me’, but that ‘we’ are all in this together. As John Main expressed it: “When [people] have been meditating for a period of six months or so they begin to look at their lives by a different set of values.”
Their mind-set alters from one of scarcity to one of abundance, from a way of being that protects ‘me’ and ‘mine’ to a deepening world-view that fosters instead the common good of ‘we’ and ‘ours’.
The love we encounter in meditation transfigures us – it dissolves the boundaries between oneself and others. Meditation helps us to reframe our experience of everyday life in light of our personal spiritual experience. We come to appreciate that we don’t have to live out of our own limited resources but out of the infinite energy of God within us; and this gives rise to a more compassionate way of being in the world. In short, we become more Christ-like.
But this doesn’t happen overnight. Waiting for Christmas can seem negative and boring – we just want it to arrive. What makes waiting so difficult is that we try to have one foot in the present moment and the other in the future. But life can only be lived in the present moment, so we need to have both feet firmly planted in the here and now. That’s one of the reasons posture is important in meditation. The simple act of placing our feet firmly on the floor helps to ground us psychologically and spiritually. It anchors us to the present moment, so that we are not waiting for anything. We simply allow ourselves to be in the moment; just to be. Not doing, just being.
If we have the patience and discipline to simply be and to set aside time for that every day, we find after a time that we are mysteriously changed. A seedling doesn’t have to do anything to be changed into a scented blossom. If it is planted in good soil and well rooted, it becomes a beautiful flower simply by being. Meditation creates such an environment for the human being. It creates an opportunity for Christ to be born anew within us. The daily practice of meditation grounds us in God and we become transfigured – when Christ takes root in our hearts we find ourselves figuring things out from a new perspective. And that is our intention in meditation – allow ourselves to be changed by grace; we cannot will it but we can learn to wait, not in expectation, but in hope.
Every mother is changed by the birth of a child – every good father too. The prayer of the heart, meditation, leads us into the true experience and meaning of Christmas. Every time we meditate we turn wholeheartedly to God and assent, as Mary did, to the birth of Christ within us.