A “manger” experience
And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
When we encounter something that seems to have no obvious solution or is even unjust, I’ve found it so helpful to ponder some of the elements surrounding the birth of Christ Jesus. Can you imagine the concerns an expectant Mary must have had to overcome when she and Joseph needed to travel from the familiarity and safety of home to pay taxes to an occupying foreign power? She was just about to give birth, and on top of this, there was no room at the inn!
What might Mary have discovered in being obedient to the laws of the land by traveling with Joseph to pay those taxes, and in trusting that they were being led and cared for by God, step by step? Could she have been trusting that the Holy Ghost, the divine Comforter, would make apparent the right place for her baby’s delivery at precisely the right time?
In fact, Mary was led to exactly the right place for the momentous event of Jesus’ birth. And it confounded all human reasoning or planning. She and her small family were safe in the stable where she laid her child in a manger, presumably away from prying eyes, gossip, and noise. There, they were quietly available to those who heeded God’s call to come see the Savior.
I find great symbolism in the humble manger that held the child whose immense mission was to feed the world with the bread of God, of Truth—the truth of spiritual being. Jesus’ birth was representative of how practically God cares for us in every circumstance. Jesus came to show the infinite supply of divine goodness and to reveal that when we understand this goodness to be based in Spirit, not matter, awe-inspiring things happen. Think of the time when just a few loaves of bread and a few fish were multiplied to feed thousands (see Luke 9:10–17).
When we are confronted with a situation that seems unjust and onerous, Mary’s manger experience, cherished by Christians everywhere, can remind us to trust this spiritual law found in the Christian Science textbook, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy: “Divine Love always has met and always will meet every human need” (p. 494).
This comforting law of divine Love, God, has been proven in my life many times, and often in surprising ways. More than once I have been lifted, even impelled, out of situations and places where I thought I needed or wanted to stay. And looking back, I’ve realized what a blessing it was to be forced to leave. It was as if I were being told, “There is no room at the inn.” These instances included the deep disappointment of being denied tenure at an academic institution in the United States, which meant having to leave a community I loved. But this ultimately led me to embrace the experience of living in Egypt for several years, lending my talents to starting the first art major at The American University in Cairo. This turned out to be an enriching adventure I would not have wanted to miss.
So often, we think we know the proper course for our life and try to “make things happen.” But, if we’re truly, earnestly, praying to do God’s will and listening for the divine Mind’s direction, we come to understand that we really have no power to thwart God’s good will for us—a will that naturally blesses not only us but others as well.
Each initially disappointing situation I’ve faced in my life has led to a discovery. It’s shown me a new, proper place for that particular moment, and an increasingly purposeful experience where my talents could be appreciated and I could more fully bless others. In addition, as I prayed consistently, and many times sought help from Christian Science practitioners, I discovered that my supply and worth did not rest in human systems such as tenure. I could trust that my experience would work out in God’s own way and to the greatest blessing for me and for everyone involved.
Instead of telling God how we think things should be, we can be quiet and listen. Obeying Jesus’s words “Not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42) is not just a duty, but is an acknowledgment of the divine law that describes our relationship to, our unity with, God as His reflection—created, as the Bible tells us, in His image and likeness. As we humbly listen, we allow God to lead us to safe places and in ways that we can best fulfill our own unique mission.
God’s will is really the only will, so God’s purpose for us can’t help but be so much better than anything we could plan for ourselves. By listening for, and following, the leading of divine Love—which meets all our needs—we’re able to see beyond human expectations, glimpse the beauty of Love’s all-encompassing view, and be safe in our own “manger” experience.