We Are All Bethlehem
When I first stumbled across the idea that life with God is spacious, I remember the sentence seemed like an invitation to something I did not have. Paul puts it like this to the Romans, “…attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life.”
And to the Corinthians he writes, “I can’t tell you how much I long for you to enter this wide-open, spacious life. We didn’t fence you in. The smallness you feel comes from within you. Your lives aren’t small, but you’re living them in a small way. I’m speaking as plainly as I can and with great affection. Open up your lives. Live openly and expansively!”
I believed Paul: It wasn’t my life that was small, but that I was living it in a small way. My life seemed and felt anything but spacious and yet I longed for it, calling it balance or boundaries or priorities. But it felt like juggling, not wide open space.
I’ve been thinking about space for a couple of years now. In fact, before SLOW was my "word for a year," SPACE was my word - back in 2016.
I wanted margins and blank space, time to receive guests, do spontaneous things, and also time to just get to the to-do lists I kept making for those occasional off days and long weekends. My love of both people and solitude, of activity and quiet reflection, of reading and writing seemed to compete within me all the time.
For quite some time, I looked for the idea of spaciousness in my reading. My chosen devotional reading was a book and app called Sacred Space. I spent time writing longer pieces (not yet for the blog) about actual places in my life that I considered sacred spaces and how they have shaped me.
Most recently, I’ve found myself thinking about interior space, the space within me where God dwells. Do I make space for God within and how? What does that look like in practical terms? While I was pondering that question, I heard a man sing “Joy to the World” as a solo. Though I’ve sung that hymn hundreds of time with scores of people, I suddenly noticed the line, “Let every heart prepare him room.” It’s calling us to interior spaciousness.
My first ideas about how to create interior spaciousness are spiritual practices like meditation, fasting, simplicity, and confession. There’s a good one - confession. What if I quit holding on to feelings and thoughts as if they are secrets from God? What if I just pour out my heart and tell him everything I’m mad about, scared of, or trying desperately to deny?
Isn’t emptying a way of making space?
We are all Bethlehem. Full. No vacancy.
OK, there’s a stable out back. You can have that, Christ Child. How many times in my life have I sent the Divine to the stable? The message of Christmas for me this year seems to be this: He will be born in us. He will. Even in our mangers and stables. Mostly in them. We won’t get cleaned up and ready and make room, but He will come anyway.
He came right on time to the place he was supposed to be born. Though human will relegated him to the dirty, lowly stable, He was born. Perhaps when I do seek to attend to him in my life, I look in the wrong places. Maybe it’s the stables, among the smelly animals, in the feed troughs of my life that I pay attention. Perhaps those are the true sacred spaces.
My family has been watching The Crown lately. I was struck by a scene recently where Philip and Elizabeth are going to bed in their separate chambers but the doors are all open between them. They sleep in separate beds but they can see and talk to each other from their beds.
The morning after watching that scene I came across Revelation 3:8, “Behold I have left an open door before you which no one can close.” This is Jesus speaking to me. He has an ‘open door policy’. I am always welcome; our relationship is secure. His beloved (that’s you and me) have an open door.
My daddy says to new friends he meets, “Our door is always open.” He was always inviting people to stop by, to stay with us if they passed through town. His daddy before him used to say, “There’s always room for two more feet under our table.” This is God, the open door, space at the table.
Before electronic baby monitors, we slept with bedroom doors open when our children were small so we could hear them if they needed us during the night. This is God, the mother’s ear tuned to the sound of the toddler’s cry, the door open so she will hear the faintest cry of need.
In the Incarnation we have a perpetual invitation to relationship. No one can close the door between Jesus and me. Nobody’s rules, tribes, legalism, not my besetting sin or my own crowded heart. Feelings of despair, anger, of self-serving motives don’t close the door. Powerful people and institutions don’t close the door.
The door is open and it’s spacious on the other side of that threshold.
“Let every heart prepare him room.” I want to make room. I want to make space. But the best I probably will ever offer is a stable out back where the stalls need mucking. He’ll come anyway, to the Bethlehem stable of my heart, crowded with cows and donkeys and sheep and doves. He’ll show up, and probably without me realizing or helping him, he’ll clean it up and make it spacious.