A while back (a long while back) I attended a speed version of the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius. The full form is thirty days; there is a week-long form that time has hallowed; there also is a four-day form, which might have been shaped as a concession to the late twentieth century, or perhaps we’ve been conceding that four is more than zero for longer than that. Anyway.
The four-day version is the version I participated in — my girls were quite young then, and four full days away was a seemly amount of time. My Sweetie had gone a few months before; growing up in Jesuit schools, it was part of his spiritual rhythms, and he’d had a hunger strong enough to seek out a community that offered the Exercises. Me, I was just curious. And perhaps hungry for a silence like I’d never experienced… particularly in contrast to daily life with two small people.
What I’m remembering today lives within one of my imaginative experiences from that time. Ignatius called these considerations; we listen to (or read) a passage of Scripture and insert ourselves within the telling. We identify who and where we are (passage-wise), evoke all the sensory elements, perhaps have imagined conversations with others within the passage. [There’s more, and I’m not going to tell the more — in Texas, visit Montserrat Jesuit Retreat House for their wonderful hospitality and teaching.]
So there I am, imagining my way through Matthew 12 (or was it Luke 6?), walking in the grain-field alongside the other followers and Jesus, wrapping my hand around a stalk, pulling off the ripe wheat-berries, scuffing them in my hands, and popping them in my mouth. I sit; Jesus sits beside me; he extends his hand and offers me a few grains. I take them, eat them too… even as my 21st-century brain overlays the ancient Greek story of Persephone. She’s the one who, after eating a few pomegranate arils, has to periodically return to the Underworld: by eating their fruit, she is tied there.
Except I am not Persephone in the Underworld; I am myself, imagined, chewing on Jesus’ offered wheat, feeling a shock of recognition that I am connected to the Christ in a way that cannot be severed. I’ve taken the food he offered. I am his.
And here are some things I continue to notice when I remember this experience:
Jesus and I sit shoulder-to-shoulder. I am not bodily below, I am not positioned in humbleness. We are companions in the moment, sharing a view out over the field and the world.
Not only are we companions, we are friends. There is mutuality in friendship — that’s what makes folk friends and not some other relation. As friends, not only do I welcome what Christ offers (!! well, yes) — I also offer things to Jesus that he welcomes from me.
I continue to have plenty of weird mental moments, trying to hang on to that level of intimacy as well as the overarching transcendence I believe the Triune God to have… and I find it an intriguing discipline. Christ values what I offer not in the way a parent welcomes a drawing from a child (“What exciting use of color! Let’s hang it on the fridge.”) but as one involved in a shared endeavor — say, the Realm of Heaven in this human time — where every part of the work, every worker, is important in accomplishing the shared goal.
I was on a retreat this weekend where our text was Matthew 11:28-30, the one where older translations quote Jesus asking us to lay down the yoke we’ve been under and yoke up with him, with his light burden. Our worship leader reminded us that a plowing-yoke is for shared work — there’s an experienced ox, say, alongside an ox who’s new to making furrows. By invoking this image, she encouraged, Jesus implies that he’s pulling next to us, not sending a memo of instructions. (Memo is my image, not hers-!)
When we work together, we can be peers in the work. Collaborating means we bring our ideas, approaches, hearts together toward the goal we share, the vision we see together. As collaborators, we each bring unique components into what we’re making — and the end result usually becomes better when our diverse elements are woven into the whole.
Mostly I dwell in my understandings of God, transcendent: beyond all beyondness, unconfinable within my comprehension. Glory of all gloriousness, bright-shining as the sun!
And then I’m reminded that God also sits next to me on my bench, snacking on wheat-berries, nodding as I plot my next faithful moves. Thanks for the sustenance, Jesus. I’m ready to get up and keep going.