Part Advent craft for the family, part spiritual autobiography - how's that for a multi-purpose blog post?
One Christmas season when I was a child, my mom had the family do a special activity at home. She set up a little doll-size manger with a small pile of straw next to it and invited us all to "prepare a place for the baby Jesus." We were to add straw one piece at a time over the weeks of Advent. And we were to only add straw when we had done an act of kindness for someone, anonymously.
These good deeds were to be kept secret. It was just between us... and God.
It was a nice activity, and fun in a way that appealed to a young boy who got permission to be sneaky for a change. I don't recall that we ever did it again in the years after that, but by the 25th I do recall there was a decent amount of straw in the manger for the Jesus doll to lie in.
Looking back, it has seemed to me that something really significant got catalyzed in my spiritual life back then. The experience of sharing a secret with God - and essentially engaging in this "spiritual practice" over several weeks - was, as far as I can recall, my earliest clear encounter with God as an actual "other" I could relate to. My first sense of the "Thou" in my "I-and-Thou" relationship (thank you, Martin Buber, for giving me that language some years later.)
So this year, I decided to bring back the manger. I made a little video of how to build one with my daughter Rebecca that you can find below. I think she's already got a stronger spiritual sensitivity that I did at her age, but if this helps to encourage her growth (or mine, or any of the rest of us in the household), well, it's all good.
And anything that encourages more intentional acts of kindness is worth a shot!
Blessings on you and yours this season. May you all share good secrets.