by Sarah-Leah Pimentel
Last weekend, I took out my Nativity set and staged the biblical statues on my coffee table. Then, after arranging and rearranging the pieces and the scenery, I sat back to admire my compilation. My attention remained focused on Mary and Joseph, gazing expectantly at the still-empty crib, awaiting the completion of the scene on Christmas Eve when the child is born, and the heavens ring out their hallelujahs.
As I contemplated the scene before me, I realised that the last few days of Advent are a great exercise in waiting. Everything is ready, but the moment that changes everything is yet to come. So all we are doing is holding space prayerfully until we can enter into the full spirit of the Christmas celebration.
Isn’t that a little bit like life? When things happen in our lives and in those we care about, there is a moment in time that separates what was from what is to come. It may be joyfully waiting for the birth of a child or grandchild. It might be part of the grieving process in mourning the loss of a loved one, a time of anxiety in the face of a severe illness, or the loss of a job.
In all these instances, there is the sense that we are suspended in time, neither in one reality nor in another. But we are also still deciding whether to let go of the old and embrace the unknown. In these moments, we might feel completely lost or alone. Or we might cling to familiar things that don’t necessarily bring us peace, like replaying that destructive narrative in our head.
Too often, we see the people we care about in pain, and we want to ease their suffering. From the outside, we think we know what they should be doing to move on. We might counsel them, pray with them, and suggest useful reading material, but sometimes these well-intentioned actions seem futile.
Quite simply, we cannot step into the shoes of another or walk their journey. We can equip them with provisions for the journey, but ultimately only that person can take the first step. It’s the same with our inner battles. We must take the first step into the new unknown reality, but it can take time.
And while we wait, we can hold space. “Holding space” is a term that has become increasingly popular in the New Age movement, but I think it holds significance in the Christian tradition too. Holding space is about being compassionately present for another and creating a safe spiritual space for them to experience whatever they need to feel in their particular situation. We suspend our need to be correct, know better, and judge by holding space. It’s not about me. It’s about the person who needs me to present for them, as they are.
As I meditated on my little nativity scene, it occurred to me that on that great night of Christmas when the word became flesh, the whole universe was holding space in anticipation of the moment when for the first time in human history, God walked among humankind and showed a new way of peace, joy, hope, and love.
This Christmas, let us hold space for those who seek us out in moments of pain or uncertainty so, simply by being present with them, they can find the inner courage and peace to begin the next chapter of their lives.