..........I walked for hours along the slowly winding, dusty road from Nazareth to Bethlehem. As the advancing night became deeper and ever colder, stars began to appear. Eventually, enough starlight was shed for me to discern Bethlehem as a darker smudge against the darkened landscape. I continued on my way until I arrived at a large cave to the rear of an inn. Entering the cave through a wooden gate, I could see that the cave was furnished with stalls and mangers for animals, together with feed and bedding. The ground was covered with fresh straw which muffled the sound of my footsteps. Thus it was that no-one present seemed to have noticed my arrival.
I watched awhile from the shadows cast by a stall. A servant girl hurried past my place of concealment, carrying cloths and a container of hot water. When she finally left, I stepped into the soft light and approached a large manger from which emanated a yellowish-white glow. The manger lay across my path so that I approached it from the side. At the right-hand end stood a donkey and a cow looking down into the manger, whilst a sheep rested its chin on the edge, not quite able to see in. At the left-hand end of the manger stood two figures. They were large, painted statues of a man and a woman, presumably representations of Mary and Joseph, constructed from some chalky-looking material.
As I continued to approach the manger, the glow from inside became ever brighter, as if the light had become aware of my presence. The statues did not move; they just seemed to be larger than before. The animals looked at me, and their eyes seemed to be cold, devoid of any warm emotion. I leant over the side of the manger, and looked into the depths of the light.
The light reached up and held me, and I realised that there was no visible end to, or source of, the light. At the very heart of the light, surrounded by intense whiteness, were two eyes. There was nothing else except those eyes, dark ellipsoids that narrowed to points at their extremities. Held fast, I 'heard' the eyes speak:
"You are Mine! Mine!"
Terror washed through me. How could I feel so utterly afraid? I was being drawn down into the light, the eyes coming ever closer. The animals moved slowly to block any retreat I might consider. Deeper and deeper I was drawn until, after summoning all my strength and will, I wrenched myself free, pushed the animals aside, and fled from the cave..........
[Meditation from my private diaries relating to, "The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius."]
I was so dumbfounded by this experience that for a long time I simply would not accept the feelings of sheer terror that had engulfed me. Never had I felt anything so utterly alien as those eyes. As time passed, I began to forget about that experience, the wrongness and apparent artificiality of the scene. The birth of the Christ child was supposed to have been a joyous event, when divine love was poured into the world. Yet instead of love, I felt terror; instead of liberation, I felt entrapment; instead of gentle familiarity and desire, I felt alien-ness and demand, demand for my very being regardless of whether I willed it or not.
Since that time there has been an unending struggle going on deep inside me. Most of the time that struggle has been beyond my conscious awareness, but sometimes something has surfaced, full of fearful doubts, a longing to escape I know not what. It has been as if I were ratting on a friend, the same kind of agony that I had experienced when I finally decided to stop smoking after having indulged in that addiction for some thirty to forty years. The sense of inner devastation was unbelievably intense. Yet here I stand at another crossroads that has been awaiting my arrival for a long time.
The pain arises, not because I have largely ignored Christianity as being of no concern any longer, but because I must make a conscious, positive decision to let it go. The pain arises, not because I am choosing to leave behind me a spiritual safety net, but because my path may take me beyond the outer rim of logic, rationality and reason into the outer darkness of sheer intuition, a natural but largely unexplored part of my Self, a faculty that has become alienated perhaps. This is a part, maybe the major part, of the extreme discomfort I have lately felt about submitting certain written thoughts to Gwynt. It is as if I have done something with my senses and my intellect, but my heart still needs to follow. It is as if I am reliving in a few short weeks an alienation that has been going on for years. And that concentratedness is obliging me to take action, no longer merely to cope with a slowly changing, spiritual environment, but to do something. What that something is, I cannot yet know, not until at the very least I am able to interpret this experience of the nativity more completely. Maybe in letting go of something I need now to find a new home, one for which I sense with nostalgia still lies in the future. I fear that it is going to demand a great deal of faith on my part, and I do not do faith very well. But we shall see what we shall see.