Man, this e-mail is getting long. A breather maybe? I might as well write a book while I'm at it...
The Life of Christ. This was the longest Week of the retreat, and the most peaceful and joyful one for me. For me, this is where Ignatius' "contemplation of place" really kicks in. The use of the imagination. We are invited by Ignatius to place ourselves in these gospel scenes, from the time the Angel appears to Mary up to the time where Jesus is betrayed. Moreover, it is not just watching a movie. We are invited to bring ourselves into the scene, to authentically interact with it. This is the power of the imagination for Ignatius, and this is why God can "directly deal with his creatures."
So, at every prayer period, I was placing myself at a scene, bringing all of my senses into the imagination, talking with the people involved. Essentially, I experienced the Gospels like this for the rest of the retreat.
Let me tell you that this is utterly exhausting and can be very difficult. Physical exercise is no different, however. I know, since I was experiencing this with all the exercise I was doing this past month. At first, it was so difficult, and I was getting tired of it although I hadn't been doing it very long. But, the more you do it, the more the body adjusts and the easier it comes. The same with prayer and composing myself at these scenes. Ignatius, however, recognized that we can lose heart and not feel like we can do it and give up. For him, this was all the more reason to stay true to the hour of prayer. I definitely had my moments where I just needed to fight internally to keep that hour going. But, in the end, it is worth it.
A few insights I'd like to talk about.
This first one is perhaps theological talk, but, I think for any Christian, I have come to see it as one of the most fundamental beliefs. Jesus as God-Man; or, Jesus as fully divine and fully human.
There's something I think that is lost in the belief if Christians discard the notion that Jesus was both fully divine and fully human, holding one up over the other. For me, there is something utterly profound going on when I think about this story about how God placed Jesus in the womb of an ordinary woman, Mary, (well, not ordinary for Catholics, but at the time) who gave birth in basically a farm surrounded by animals because she was continuously rejected to be brought into any of the inns. How Jesus was placed after birth into a manger. I thought about this word manger, and realized I didn't know what it was. I looked it up in a dictionary: "a bed for the food of the animals." Basically, the birth of Jesus, whom millions of people across the globe have come to believe in, slept in the food of the pigs, as the story goes anyway.
One would think this God-Man would have more higher places he could be.
But, this image of being as the least among us continues for the rest of the gospel stories. He breaks every conceivable taboo that existed in his day.
"Um, why are you talking with that Samaritan woman?"
"How can you sit at the table of a tax collector?"
"He's healing on the Sabbath!!! Heresy!!"
"She's a prostitute for crying out loud!"
"Ahh...look! He walks with those 'unclean' people!"
If Christians believe that Jesus is fully human and fully divine, then how striking it is to reflect on about whom this God-Man associates Himself with. He is a God-Man that uplifts the poor, who shatters the invisible wall of racism, who heals the blind, the stigmatized and much much more. If you can capture the work that Jesus does, you can capture the work that we Jesuits strive to do and where we are called to be. Not to say that we do any of this perfectly, God forbid. And not to say that we only minister to the poor, because we obviously don't. It's difficult to serve the poor if you can't turn the hearts of the rich. But, essentially, the Jesuit Order, an Apostolic Order, seeks to be like Jesus by serving as best we can as Jesus in the world. And, it takes actual discernment about who Jesus actually is before true discernment of service can be done.
It shakes up the system. Jesus shook things up, frankly. This is a difficult call to discern because it makes people angry. Angry enough to plot about his death.
In all of these scenes, I continued to foster my own relationship with Jesus, to grow in love of Him as a child, and to want to follow in his footsteps as a child. A growing desire to do service in the world. That is me, of course, becoming idealistic in my hopes for being able to be of service to others. I think we all need, however, a dose of idealism now and then to burn our hearts anew.
I wanted to end this week about Jesus' entrance into the city where he is crucified. I loved being in this scene just because I was looking at Jesus ride "majestically" on an ass into Jerusalem. Quite the procession of a King.
(to be continued)