Category Archives: Advent & Solstice

Exercise 56: An Advent Visualization

Background:  This advent, I have been filled with wonder at such a simple image: A pregnant woman, far from home.  She is traveling with her new husband because they have to.  There is no room in the human habitations.  She gives birth in the manger.  The child is something magnificent.

Because one of the sources of this image for me this year is an entire book, it is difficult to tie it into this practice.  Before we get into the nuts and bolts of this practice, I would like to quite heartily encourage you to check out the wonderful book of my good friend Jenn by clicking here.

This post contains the ingredients for many spiritual practices.  The description below is broken into three sections.  The first is an invitation to reading a number of different depictions of the entry into Bethlehem.  The second is a visualization walking the reader through the events.  The third is a series of reflections, meditations, and questions on these events.

I would recommend choosing only one element from each section for a session.  If this feels productive, you might return to this exercise and choose a second reading and series of meditations for your next session.  Less is more with spiritual practices.

There is a value in wondering about the historical details.  But not for this practice, today.  If it is easier, it would be just as helpful to imagine this scene occurring in a city today.  Perhaps, instead of a donkey, Mary rides in a sidecar of an old, broken down motorcycle.  Or her feet have swollen with the pregnancy and she is pushed by Joseph in a wheelchair.

The Practice.

Part A: Some Readings to Choose From

  1.  Release your expectations and stress with three deep inhales and exhales.
  2. Consider one (or perhaps two) of the following passages.  You may wish to read it more than once:   

Click here to read Luke 2: 1-20

Or, read this poem about the event:

you want
the Virgin will come walking down the road
pregnant with the holy,
and say,
“I need shelter for the night, please take me inside your heart,
my time is so close.”

Then, under the roof of your soul, you will witness the sublime
intimacy, the divine, the Christ
taking birth

as she grasps your hand for help, for each of us
is the midwife of God, each of us.

Yet there, under the dome of your being does creation
come into existence eternally, through your womb, dear pilgrim—
the sacred womb in your soul,

as God grasps our arms for help; for each of us is
His beloved servant
never far.

If you want, the Virgin will come walking
down the street pregnant
with Light and sing …

–St. John of the Cross, “If You Want” in Daniel Ladinsky Love Poems from God: Twelve Sacred Voices from the East and West (New York: Penguin Group, 2002), 306-307.

Or read this poem

Sometimes I wonder
if Mary breastfed Jesus.
if she cried out when he bit her
or if she sobbed when he would not latch.

and sometimes I wonder
if this is all too vulgar
to ask in a church
full of men
without milk stains on their shirts
or coconut oil on their breasts
preaching from pulpits off limits to the Mother of God.

but then i think of feeding Jesus,
birthing Jesus,
the expulsion of blood
and smell of sweat,
the salt of a mother’s tears
onto the soft head of the Salt of the Earth,
feeling lonely
and tired

and i think,
if the vulgarity of birth is not
honestly preached
by men who carry power but not burden,
who carry privilege but not labor,
who carry authority but not submission,
then it should not be preached at all.

because the real scandal of the Birth of God
lies in the cracked nipples of a
14 year old
and not in the sermons of ministers
who say women
are too delicate
to lead.

-Kaitlin Hardy Shetler

If you purchased the book suggested above, you might read the passage depicting Jesus’ birth in that book.  Jesus birth happens in chapter 11 of The Favored One.

Part B.  The Visualization

1.  Inhale and exhale 3 times.  

2.  Bring to mind the reading from above.  Sit with the images, thoughts, and feelings that might have come up from you.  When you are ready, imagine the following.  Try and do it from the perspective of one of the characters in the narrative: Pregnant Mary, Concerned Joseph, even The Donkey or a Jesus who has yet to be born.  Experience this scene with your senses.  

They have been traveling all day.  Are they tired and weary?  Is this faitgue tempered with fear or excitement?  What is the temparature, as they enter into a town that is bursting at the seams?  Imagine them coming into the town.  Are there numerous places that are full?  Are the Roman Solidiers standing by, ready to take a census?     Does the concern on Mary and Joseph’s face grow?  Hear the “clop” of the donkeys heels on the hard ground.  Feel the sweat on the scratchy fabric of the shirt.  

There comes a moment when it is clear that there will be no beds for this night, no roof that was made for people.  What are the feelings you experience at this moment?  Enter into the manger.  Imagine the smells that come to you.  What animals are present?  Are they eating or making their animal noises?  Are their flies?  Are their attendants of the animals?  How do they look at you, as you begin to move around the hay to make your shelter for the night?

Take the time you need to imagine the moments it becomes clear that the baby will be born here.  In this place, at this time.  Does the angelic visitation, and the promises made about this child feel close now?  The water breaks.  How do you feel?  How does your partner feel?  Does a midwife come into the picture?  Is their pain?  Medicine?  Joy?  Blood?

Imagine the first time Mary holds the baby.  How did Joseph look when he first held the baby?  When do they cut the cord?  What happens next?

3.  Continue this scene for as long as you would like.  Return to the readings listed in section A.   if you wish.  I would encourage you to return to a passage you read earlier and try out a new reading the next time you engage this spiritual practice.

4.  Sit with this scene and experience.  Let it penetrate you until it is time to release it.  When you have let it go, consider whether you will sit in a time of wordless union or if you will progress to section C.  Here there are some questions and meditations to consider.

Section C: Some Questions and Meditations

  1.  Inhale.  Exhale.  Bring to mind your experience of the readings in section A.
  2. Inhale.  Exhale.  Bring to mind your experience of the visualization in section B.  
  3. Inhale.  Exhale.
  4. Sit with any one of the following.  Your may wish to save a second or third question or meditation for the future.

I.  Return to that image of Jesus and Mary entering into the town.  Sit with it for a moment.  Now, make the town of Bethlehem your mind and heart.  See Joseph and Mary entering into this space.  What thoughts, feelings, or experiences are you having trouble welcoming?  What difficult realities are you struggling to accept?  See that their is a manger within you.  This is a small, forgotten aspect of your own inner self.  But it is all that you need.  Invite this formerly unwelcome aspect of your own self here.  Soon, Jesus will come into the world from this very space.

II.  See Mary’s belly swollen with life about to enter the world.  Christ is being born in you even now at this very moment.  Sit with this experience of Christ being born in you.   Feel it coming from elsewhere and entering into your world.  Don’t rush this birth.  Sit with what it could mean and how it might change you.

III.  Dwell in the stark, perhaps uncomfortable reality of Jesus birth.  It is no less paradoxical and extreme than any other birth.  Filled with pain and possibility, hope and agony.  It is bloody and scary, intimate and clinical.  Take your time to put together what you have known and experienced of human birth and realize that all this applied to Jesus, too.  After you have sat with this, consider what it might mean.  What does it mean about God?  What does it mean about Jesus?  What does it mean about you?  How does it alter your past?  Your present?  Your future?





Day 14

Today’s Exercise:

1)  Release yourself from any obligations, tasks, or duties for the duration of your practice.
2) Sit up straight, with your feet flat on the floor.
3) Breathe deeply in through the nose.  Try and fill up the belly.
4) Exhale thoroughly through the mouth.
5) Recall these practices you have engaged over these last two weeks as you continue to breathe deeply.
6) When you are ready, move on to today’s practice.
7) With your next inhale, say or think, “Who am I, God?”
8) With your next inhale, say or think, “Who are you, God?”
9) Devote most of your time to these two questions.
10) When you are ready, release those questions.  Sit for a time
11) Before you return to your daily tasks, make some decisions about whether you will continue to make a daily investment in building your spiritual practice.

Please leave comments about this exercise, or the campaign as a whole, in the space below.

Day 13 of the Solstice and Advent Campaign

With only one day remaining on this campaign, it would be a great time to share your biggest struggles and biggest victories from these last couple weeks.  Please leave them in the comment section below.

The audio of today’s meditation is here:

A transcript of that recording:

Today’s Exercise:

1) Create the darkest environment you are able to.
2) Sit with your feet flat on the floor and your back comfortably straight.
3) Make yourself aware of the shadows and darkness around you.  Inhale.
4) Exhale your knowledge of what the room would look like in the light.
5) Inhale the darkness with the air.  Remind yourself that darkness is not necessary the same as evil.  Darkness can be unknowing, mystery, and that which transcends words.
6) Exhale your easy explanations.
7) Inhale, and bring your mind to the short days of December.
8) Exhale, and bring your mind to the long nights of December.
9) Inhale, and bring to mind the time before God came into the world (perhaps that means the birth of Jesus.)
10) Exhale, and think about the time you have been waiting for God to show up.
11) Spend several more breaths now, as long as you can, in the mystery.  Breathe in the darkness with each breath.  Breathe out the light of false, shallow rationalizations and easy explanations.
12) When you are ready, turn on enough light that you can safely light the candle.
13) Light the candle.
14) Let your eyes settle on the tip of the flame inhale.
15) Keeping your eyes on the tip of the flame, exhale.
16) Make yourself aware of the way the candle illuminates the darkness.  Inhale.
17) Notice the ways the room that you are in is still dark.  Exhale.
18) Notice this illuminated darkness.  Breathe it in.
19) Breathe out the illuminated darkness.
20) Inhale, and bring to mind the slowly lengthening days of January.
21) Exhale, and bring to mind the gradually shortening nights of January.
22) Inhale the light of the candle: see this light as God’s entry into the world.
23) Exhale that light to the people you love most in the world.
24) Stare at the tip of the flame.  Breathe slowly and easily.  In through the nose and out through the mouth.  When your mind begins to wander, return it gently to the flame.  Notice the smoke, rising up.

Day 9 of the Solstice and Advent Campaign

Here is the audio track for today’s practice:

You can help in turning The Faith-ing Project into a fully functioning community.  You can do this in several ways:

  • Share your thoughts, feelings, and criticism below in the comments.
  • email to share something directly with the Project’s Director, to join our next email campaign, or to ask to be placed on the mailing list.
  • Access exclusive content and help The Faithing Project share spiritual practices with a world in desperate need.  Become a  Patron.
  • follow @faithingproject on twitter.

Day 7 of the Advent & Solstice Campaign

Today, many of us celebrate Christmas Eve.  Our lives ramp themselves up to a fever pitch.  Perhaps this is the busiest, and the most stressed we will be in this entire year.
Many of the things we do are good things.  Some of them are great things.   Tradition and culture pressure us to rush here and there.  Family and friends are hoping to see us.   More than a few of our tasks are duties, expectations that we don’t feel we can escape.
This all can leave precious little room for the most important things. The things that we know are best.

It’s not so different from the Jesus story: there was no room at the inn.  There should have been.  But there wasn’t.
As pressures mount, I hope that today’s practice makes some room in the inn that is within you.  This practice is partially rooted in the Genesis account, which states that God reached down into the earth.  When God breathed into that dirt,something happened which made that dirt the very first human.  Perhaps this is where we inherited God’s image.
I believe that God’s initial act of creation is an ongoing event.  With each breath, God breathes into us.
Today’s exercise might be easiest to access via an audio file.  Click here to listen to it.  Continue reading if you would rather approach this exercise in it’s written form.

I would love to hear how this is going!  And I know that others will benefit from this to!  Please leave a comment below.

Here is the audio version of today’s practice:

Today’s Exercise:

1.  Sit up, straight and comfortable.
2.  For the duration of your practice today, release yourself from your comitments.  Give yourself permission to engage this practice fully.
3.  Take a deep, cleansing inhale.  Place your hand on your belly and do your best to feel it move; fill your lungs from the bottom, up.
4.  Exhale fully, from the bottom of the lungs through the top.
4.  With your next inhale, see that this in-breath is God breathing into you.
5.  Exhale, fully.
6.  With your next inhale, remind yourself of God’s presence, breathing into you.
7.  Exhale, again.
8.  Inhale God’s breath into you.
9.  For these next few breaths, we will focus on the exhales.  With each breath we will be exhaling tension from our body.  Continue to breathe slowly and fully.
10.   remember that each inhale comes straight from God as we engage this.
11.  Inhale, God’s breath.
12.  Now, exhale.  But with your breath, exhale the tension from your feet and calves.  Blow it out through your mouth.
13.  As you inhale God’s breath, feel it filling your all the way down to your feet.
14.  As you exhale, breathe out the stress from your knees and thighs.
15.  Inhale a breath straight from God.   This breath is what makes you human.
16.  Exhale the tension from your lap and buttocks.
17.  Inhale God’s breath into the space you have made.  Feel it travel downward from the lungs to the whole lower half of your body.
18.  Exhale the tension from your abdomen and lower back.
19.  Feel God breath out, and into you.
20.  Exhale the tension from your chest and upper back.
21.  Inhale a breath from God.  Feel the breath first fill your lungs.  Let that divine breath fill up the empty space you have made.
22.  Exhale the tension from your next and shoulders.
23.  Inhale and feel God’s breath fill you from toes to neck.
24.  Exhale the tension from your head.  Feel it leave your brow, jaw, and the base of your skull.  Exhale this stress with your breath.
25.  Now, as we begin to draw this exercise to a close, continue to draw God’s breath into the empty space you have created.  With this next inhale, feel that this oxygen that is spreading to every inch of you is carrying God’s love.
26.  Exhale stress and tension.
27.  Inhale, and see that God’s breath is filling up the empty space within you with the deepest Peace.
28.  Exhale your worries and concern.
29.  With this next inhale, bring God’s breath into the tips of your fingers and toes.  Draw it up to the top of your skull.  Feel it in all the places in between.  And know that this breath is peace.



Solstice & Advent, Day 4

Below is the audio track you can use for today’s exercise:

In the comment section below, I hope you will leave some thoughts and observations about these first four days of this campaign.


Solstice & Advent: Day 2

This is a space to  share any reactions, thoughts, or comments from the 2nd day of the email campaign.  If you would like to join us for the remaining 12 days of this campaign (free of charge) fill out the contact form above, or email  A few questions that come to my mind right now:

#1) What was today’s practice like for you?  What were some similarities and some differences between Day 1 and Day 2 for you?

#2) Do you feel like you have much of an answer to the questions you have been asking?  Can you put this answer into words?

#3) Is there a benefit to asking questions that don’t have easy answers?

#4)  What kinds of things are you struggling with on these practices?  What is going well?  Is anything surprising you?


You can help in turning The Faith-ing Project into a fully functioning community.  You can do this in several ways:

  • Share your thoughts, feelings, and criticism below in the comments.
  • email to share something directly with the Project’s Director, to join our next email campaign, or to ask to be placed on the mailing list.
  • Access exclusive content and help The Faithing Project share spiritual practices with a world in desperate need.  Become a  Patron.
  • follow @faithingproject on twitter.

Solstice & Advent: As We Begin

For more information on The Faith-ing Project’s  December campaign, click here.

In the comments below, I hope you will share some thoughts and reactions to the following questions– especially if you will be participating in the campaign.

  1. How did you feel about the day 1 activities?
  2.  What general things would you like to share about yourself?
  3. Have solstice or advent had any significance in your past?
  4. Do solstice or advent have any significance in your present?
  5. What is your experience and opinion around spiritual exercises?
  6. What are your hopes and fears for this campaign?
  7. What sorts of traditions, prayers, meditations, and contemplative activities do you find helpful and powerful?  (Especially as related to solstice or advent?)