As a member of a men’s religious order, I am often in male-only environments. That being said, my Christmas reflections took an unexpected turn thanks to four women in my life—two friends, one family member, and a mentor—who had simultaneously become pregnant and given birth this last year. Consequently, throughout this Christmas season, I have been spending meals around newborns and all the messy realities that having a child entails. Dirty diapers. Colicy screams. Regurgitation.
In life, divine moments often appear in ordinary experiences. Picture a mother nursing her child—an image that reflects how God comes into the world, completely vulnerable. It’s like the stories Jesus told, where small things, like a mustard seed, start something significant. Or how Paul reminds us that the early disciples were not considered powerful or wise by worldly standards. Yet they were the ones chosen to spread the message, showing that strength can come from unexpected places. When a mother nurses her child, there’s an exchange—a deep act of selflessness and love. The milk flowing out, a self-giving act of nourishment, which for the mother can be demanding, tiring, and filled with challenges. Many mothers deal with postpartum depression. Oftentimes, anxiety and feelings of inadequacy come about when sustaining your own child becomes difficult. In these struggles, we can see what Christmas means, and what God’s vulnerability demands of us when he appears as a helpless infant.
This is a scene we can bring to our prayer, using our imagination, placing ourselves in the place of Mary:
“In the quiet of the stable, you cradle the newborn in your arms, his tiny form nestled against your warmth. You draw him close, head to heart. The soft glow of a flickering oil lamp casts a warm ambiance, illuminating the scene painted in shadows and soft hues. Exhaustion lingers in the lines of your face as you bring the infant to your breast, and the air becomes charged with a tender anticipation. The first stirrings of nourishment begin. The milk emerges, and you feel this lifeforce going out of you, something offered to sustain this new life. The room is hushed, save for the rhythmic sounds of nursing—the delicate slurps and contented sighs filling the space. Your gaze meets the child’s, and in that shared moment, a profound exchange occurs—a silent understanding that transcends words.”
This is one prayer experience that came about after I spent time with my mother-friends and listened to their joys and fears, hopes and anxieties. Another came through holding these newborns, when I noticed something interesting—their grasping reflex. When you stick out a finger to a newborn, they will instinctively curl their hand around it. When those little fingers wrap around your finger, often with surprising strength, it’s a reminder that God wants you close, and will hold on to you. God holds on not in God’s strength, but in God’s vulnerability. Forget about extending a hand, the act of extending a finger to the divine presence is an invitation to be in communion with God. Just as a baby instinctively grasps onto a finger, so too does God hold onto us in our moments of vulnerability.
And here we can continue our prayer:
“Your eyelids grow heavy in the quiet of the stable; exhaustion settles over you as you recline, and just as you teeter on the brink of slumber… a slight movement. The tiny, warm palm bumps against your extended pointer. You feel the delicate pressure as the tiny fingers, smooth and still plump with the softness of infancy, instinctively wrap around your finger. The fist holds on fiercely, as the quiet of the room gives way to some vague melody in the distance.”
Reflecting on the pregnancies of these four women in my life, I witnessed the intricate dance between the sacred and the mundane. The intertwining of their lives, each marked by the anticipation of new beginnings, mirrors the themes of Christmas. The arrival of a child, much like the birth of Christ, transforms the ordinary into the extraordinary. As countless women navigate the challenges of pregnancy and early motherhood, let us, men especially, observe the divine unfolding in the midst of sleepless nights and whispered lullabies.