His Own Received Him Not

If I close my eyes when I pray,

I sometimes wonder

what I am preventing myself

from seeing.


Am I shutting out the world? 

Will God project some image

inside my eyelids,

that only I can see,

but have not yet seen?


My hands are closed, too.

Clasped, is what you would call them.

Closed is what they, are –

unable to reach, to grab, to pinch,

or to hold on to anything.


What else in me is closed

when I pray,

if my eyes and my hands

are closed?


Usually my mouth is running,

which is not so different

from when I am not praying,

and my mouth is running…

which is another way of being closed.


And my mind, of course,

is following (yes, following)

my mouth;

so it is occupied, unavailable, and closed.


What else is left,

if my eyes, and my hands,

my mouth, and my mind

are accounted for?


Only my heart.


When the Scriptures say

that Jesus was in the world,

and the world was made by him

but the world knew him not.

That he came unto his own,

and his own received him not,

where does that put me,

since I am part of this world?

And where does it put you?


Remember, I am praying,

and my eyes, and by hands, are closed,

and my mouth is running,

my mind is following behind.

And there is only my heart to wonder about.


If this is what I am like at prayer,

how could I receive him, ever?

How could you?


I am so busy with myself,

how can I receive him,

when he comes into the world?


I have my interests, my worries,

my loves, and infatuations,

my greediness, and desires;

I have my work, and my church

to distract me from Jesus,

if I will let them,

which, generally, I do.

Don’t you?


And remember, even when I pray,

almost everything is closed, shut,

unable to receive him.


Sometimes my dog lies on his back,

all four limbs crookedly in the air,

his pink, fur-less belly exposed.

I can stroke his silly belly this way,

and he will wag his tail,

and stay that way for a little while,

until being so exposed

becomes too much.


Is that what it would be like

to be able to receive the Christ?

To lie, belly-up, naked, and exposed?

To be available to be touched by him,

even my silliest parts?

Un-concerned, for a while,

with myself?


It’s so much easier to let it be about me.

So much easier to presume that the world

awaits my judgments,

owes me something,

belongs to me.


And, therefore, I am free

to make an assessment

about God, and about his Son.


I am free to decide

whether I want him

or not.


Free to decide

whether I need him

or not.


Free to decide

whether he is real

or not.


As though all that were mine,

though it is not.

Though I am still free

in just those ways.


And he comes to his own,

and his own receive him not.


I want Christmas to be

as soft as pine boughs,

as comfortable as a bed

of green, scented needles.


I want it to be only, ever

a manger,

and me outside of it,

able to come and go as I please,

or not.


But what I need

is for Christmas to be the sharp,

strong end of a wedge,

or a lever,

that subtly works its way

into some crack, or seam,

or tiny opening

in all that is shut up and closed

and unavailable in me.


Because as it is,

I am not ready or able

to receive him.

My eyes, and hands, and mouth, and mind

are not open for him.


My heart is not open to him.

I am battened down,

and all his battery is of little use,

when I am like this.

For how can he batter my heart,

if I will not even open the door?


But a wedge, or a lever,

something strong that I hardly notice

at first.  Maybe that would work!

Something like a baby?


Sometimes it helps

to go back to the beginning.

In the beginning was the Word,

and the Word was with God,

and the Word was God.


Every time we go back

to the beginning,

it’s as though there is

another chance to receive him.

Every time we remember

that the Word was made flesh

and dwelt among us.


As subtle as a baby:

a thin, sharp, long lever;

a wedge

to get into those tight places,

whence I might be pried open.


It’s as though I am lying on my back,

my silly belly open to the sky,

and to the possibility that God will touch me,

will touch you,

and we will wag our tails.


Preached by Fr. Sean Mullen

30 December 2012

Saint Mark's Church, Philadelphia

Posted on January 2, 2013 .