Praying with the boy Jesus
Gavin Thomas Murphy runs a website called Gratitude In All Things where he looks to Ignatian Spirituality for strength and inspiration.
Here I enter into an Ignatian contemplation on the gospel story of the 12-year-old Jesus in the Temple (Luke 2:41–52 »). I pay attention to my senses and feelings in imagining the scene and I relate it to my own experience as a member of a vibrant faith community. Readers are invited to use the contemplation as a means of praying with the boy Jesus, and to draw from their own experiences of ‘missing and cherishing’.
Missing and Cherishing
I miss my new friends terribly! We were just together a week ago. We bonded, shared so intimately, but part of me thinks it’s not real. I remember their kind faces, their encouragement, their creative flow. It seems different from the Camino pilgrimage in Spain – when a small group of people seem close-knit for a while only to fade over time as they live their lives in their respective places. No, this does seem different. Besides, we have deep Christian values in common, we know what it’s like to see the risen Christ in a crowd, we don’t have to explain our lives endlessly.
I think of Mary and Joseph on their journey from Nazareth to Jerusalem for the festival of Passover. The 12-year-old Jesus accompanies his parents along with their relatives and neighbours. I hear the animals breathe on the way to the city, the tumble of wheels carrying their provisions, their surge of joy as Jerusalem comes into their sight. I imagine Jesus and his parents feeling drawn to visit the temple; they stay, cherish, and worship their God. Mary and Joseph feel pride in their son who prays and adores so naturally.
I see Jesus playing with his cousins and friends on the street, running and playing sport freely. The parents feel calm and joy as they watch their children, chat to each other and share faith stories. Jesus feels drawn to the temple once more, to such an extent that he forgets to tell his parents he is going there. He bows slowly as he enters. He fully engages with the doctors of scripture – listening with his mind and heart, asking burning questions, and answering thoughtfully when needed.
Mary and Joseph, on the other hand, travel on the road back to Nazareth without Jesus, assuming he is among their relatives. They feel great pain upon realising he is missing: their jaws drop, they embrace each other and rush back to the city. They search every nook and cranny of the place. They sleep rough with little to eat. How unbearable it is, aching to find their precious son, their hope and wonder of the world.
I see the moment when Jesus and his parents finally meet at the temple. Jesus looks well with good rest and nourishment. His instruction from the doctors and constant prayers makes him look confident and serene. But his wearied parents don’t have such luck; they feel drained with heavy bodies and heads lying low.
Despite their lack of strength, their eyes become wide-open when they see their son. They run to him, hug him tightly, stare at him and give out stink for his absence. He tries to explain that he feels at home in the temple, but he still obeys his parents’ command to leave and return to Nazareth. The doctors gently tell Mary and Joseph not to be too harsh on Jesus for he is a good lad.
I recall my new friends again. I ponder how vulnerable it felt to be apart from them. I resonate with the pain of Mary and Joseph who thought of the missing Jesus from morning to night. But there was good news for them! I can imagine them holding him closely on the road to Nazareth. Their hearts feel whole again. They feel so much joy as they look out from the window of their home to see their son, once more playing with his friends.
His parents now relish him more than ever before. Not that they ever took him for granted, but that their unbearable emptiness is now filled with an overflowing giftedness. They sense the warmth and expansiveness of their hearts. They are smiling broadly, and they appreciate the power of their marriage which will carry them through many more uncertainties and unknowns.
Perhaps my emptiness will also be filled when I see my friends again – filled with their presence, grounded on our inner presence of God. Perhaps I will cherish them more than before and that we will sustain our joy together. If it is your will, Oh God, let our emptiness become our giftedness, and let our giftedness become our emptiness. Thank you for last week’s encounters! Now I wait for more!