COLUMN: Deep in the silence of this sacred season comes sensation of being ‘swallowed’, by God

Thus spoke Philoxenus: “One should be secretly swallowed up in the spirit in God, and one should clothe oneself in God at the time of prayer.”

I like that image, being “swallowed up.” Rather like now, what with Mannheim Steamroller’s “Joseph Dear, O Joseph Mine” rolling from the speakers, swallowing me whole, the waters of contemplatio snuffing out the fuss of bluster and sham.

Heed not the Siren’s song, but listen to the Night that’s Silent! Tis the season of Incarnation and reparation, of Magi and shepherds, of flute and lute! Be not Cindy Lou who fooled by the fib of the liar. Rather, put on the armor of prayer made not of mail but of light, the light that shines in the darkness and swallows us whole leaving but shadows painted on the street below.

Overshadowed, swallowed, all the same n’est-ce pas? The outcome is merely this: being swallowed up by God for the glory of God, then shooting into the universe from the fingertips of God only to explode like a Fourth of July bomb of cherry, our bodies of sparkles cascading to the earth in flickers of white and red.

O, the music! Everywhere the Gloria! The Virgin sings a lullaby! What’s this? “What Child is This?”

And that’s all we really need to know, is it not? I mean think about it. The answer to the question gives life. Why? Well, 1 John 4:4 says, “You belong to God…for the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” Us in Him, Him in us! Yeah or nay? True or false? Yes or no? Decide. DECIDE!

And the decision is made so much easier for us this time of year, this holy season, this sacred kairos. Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus; straw, manger, Caesar’s census; wonder, awe, smiles, and laughter; all is there forever after. All time, don’t you know, is eternally present. So…dare thou to be different from the madding crowd? Be not like horse and mule, needing bridle and bit. Hop aboard! And even if the weather outside is frightful, let us go, then, you and I. God will say, “O my people! O my people! Hold on tight!” And off we’ll go.

But where?

Ah, that’s the rub. Moderns demand signs and hipsters seek the cool. But we, you and me, we proclaim that in the City of David a savior is born, tis Christ the Lord. And where our Savior will lead us we don’t know, what task our Lord will ask of us we can’t guess. But this we do proclaim: that all things came to be through this child wrapped in swaddling clothes, and without him nothing came to be. So wherever this Child leads us, whatever task this Child entrusts to us, we will follow, we will comply.

The song has changed. “Still, Still, Still,” the Steamroller plays. Fresh Aire! The night grows deep and the air grows cold, and the throw my grandmother knitted so long ago is pulled up nearly to my nose. The mint hot chocolate that was in my cup has all been swallowed up.

Wife and children are all a-snooze, and Midnight Mass two hours now past. Then thunders the Lord, the God of Hosts: “Be still and know that I am God!”

So still I am.

“Still, Still, Still,” the lights of red and green and blue on the Christmas tree, the sleeping family tucked in, the nip at your nose outside, the Holy Family, the star, and even Harold the angel: they all come together and swallow me whole. Nothing beats it. Nothing.

Yes, Philoxenus was right, one “should be secretly swallowed up in the spirit in God.” And the key word is “secretly.” Show, pretense, stifles the spirit, regurgitates the Lord. Cappa magna be gone! Instead mercy within mercy.

A few light taps upon the window. Snow is falling. It is falling softly in the field of farm outside my house, and farther south along the river softly falling on my father’s house.

Fading…fading…fading. For God so loved the world…Away in a manger…Fading…Epiphanize well, brothers and sisters…Become the image and likeness you are…this night now and future far.


Deacon Mark Plaiss teaches in the Department of Religious Studies at Carmel Catholic High School in Mundelein, Ill. Contact him at