An Evangelical Protestant Encounters Catholic Spirituality: Part 2. Abiding in the deep love of Jesus
This is the second of a four part series chronicling my experience in an Ignatian retreat.
It felt really good experiencing the rest Jesus offered for my soul and I thought this was it. I looked forward to spending the rest of the retreat in that place of rest and the feelings and emotions that the Holy Spirit was stirring within me through my imagination. But God had other plans.
With the advice of my spiritual director I entered into the life and ministry of Jesus. I immersed myself in 3 events in Jesus life – his baptism, his ministry to Bartimaeus and the raising of Lazarus. As I allowed my imagination to paint the scene of Jesus’ baptism I imagined how Jesus would have felt hearing how much his Father loved him. But then as I got drawn into this story, I realized that Jesus had not started his ministry yet but the Father’s love for him was so deep. Being with his Son mattered more to the Father than his Son doing things for him.
This started to unfold further as I continued with imagining myself being present when Jesus ministered to Bartimaeus and Lazarus. It was such a wonderful feeling when I saw Bartimaeus healed; Bartimaeus, a man who had nothing. The crowd knew about Bartimaeus and they disliked him. He irritated them with his begging and was always making a lot of noise on the side of the street. Many of them saw him as cursed by God and felt he should be ignored. That was what I imagined as I walked with the crowd. Yet Jesus stopped. He noticed. He was interested. Why? It’s just one lone man shouting. I imagined looking at the face of Jesus. It was the same love and compassion I saw when he came to me as the good shepherd. It was His unconditional love that caused him to see people very differently from the crowd. Making a difference in the life of one person mattered to Jesus. It was like I mattered to Jesus when he came to me as the Good Shepherd. Bartimaeus experienced the love and compassion of the Good Shepherd. I saw myself as Bartimaeus. How would Bartimaeus have felt? He was noticed. He was not insignificant. He mattered to Jesus. I felt cocooned as I felt wrapped in the love and compassion of Jesus. I felt deep warmth as I continued walking with Jesus. My imagination drew me into the story of Martha, Mary and Lazarus.
As I journeyed with Jesus and his disciples, we heard that Lazarus was sick. Jesus didn’t seem rushed to go to Lazarus. He seemed calm about it. We all thought that it could be because he didn’t want to enter Judea because of the risks. A statement that Jesus made to the disciples made me realize that Jesus was not afraid. I saw the puzzled looks on the faces of the disciples when they could not understand what that statement meant. I imagined Jesus looking at me when he made the statement. “Anyone who walks in daylight doesn’t stumble because there’s plenty of light from the sun. Walking at night, he might very well stumble because he can’t see where he’s going”. What did Jesus mean? It was only later as Jesus was talking to Mary in my imagination that I wondered if this was really what Jesus meant. Was he showing his disciples and me the difference between remaining in the light of God’s presence and stumbling along in the dark? I replayed the whole incident again in my imagination. The disciples were afraid to go back to Judea in case Jesus and perhaps themselves would be killed. Thomas was overzealous wanting to die with Jesus. Martha was very discouraged but still clinging to a slight hope that Jesus would do something. And now Mary had shattered dreams because Jesus did not get there in time. Were they all stumbling in the dark trying to work out what the Father was saying or doing? Am I like all these people feeling that doing something is more important than being in the presence of the Father and seeing what He is doing? Only Jesus knew the heart of the Father. Jesus told us that this sickness is an occasion to show God’s glory by glorifying God’s Son. Jesus was walking in that abiding presence of the Father and all of the others were stumbling in the dark. Jesus delayed his going to Lazarus because he was abiding in the deep love of the Father and was in tune with the purpose and timing of the Father.
This struck me deeply. I imagined Jesus just abiding in the Father’s love. Maybe that’s what he meant when he invited us to come to him to find rest. He told me to learn from him, as he is gentle and humble. Jesus knew what it meant to abide in the Father’s love. I fret on a whole lot of stuff that keeps me doing rather than just being with the Father and seeing what he wanted. I am a driven and aggressive person when it comes to meeting goals unlike Jesus who is gentle. I am also self-driven whereas Jesus is humble. I felt deep down the voice of the Spirit calling me to “be” not to “do”. I found myself retreating to the green pastures to be with the Good Shepherd and just rested in his presence. I could feel joy and peace within myself, with a warm feeling covering my whole body. The grace I needed was one of abiding. Teach me Lord how to abide in the Father’s presence.
The thought of abiding led me to John 15 and I started imagining myself with Jesus and the disciples at the Passover meal. Jesus did a lot at the Passover meal. He mentioned how Judas would betray him and Peter would deny him. He broke bread and passed the cup around and explained this was his body and blood. After the meal he washed our feet as an act of servanthood and told us to follow his example. Then we walked towards the Garden of Gethsemane. There was deep sadness in the midst and I experienced that sadness being felt. Is this the beginning of the end?
Jesus started speaking and I imagined myself being pushed forward as the disciples tried to hear what Jesus was saying. “I am the true vine and you are the branches.” “Remain in me and in my love.” “Apart from me you can do nothing.” “Remain in my love so that you can love others with my love.” These words kept going around and around in my imagination. Jesus had earlier mentioned that he is the way, the truth and the life. The only way to the Father is through him. Now he is not just talking about being the way to the Father but that to be pleasing to the Father I needed to abide in him and remain in his presence so that I bear fruit that last. Having rested in Christ’s presence over the past few days and feeling his love on me, I so wanted to experience this abiding. I wanted his life to flow through me. I didn’t want it to be head knowledge but a real experience.
I asked Jesus in my imagination to give me the grace to understand and experience this abiding. That night at the evening liturgy, we were reminded of the death of Jesus on the cross. The reading was how Jesus told Mary and John that they will now be mother and son. In the period of silence that followed, I was reminded of this verse, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I that live but Christ that lives in me. The life I now live, I live by faith in Jesus.” I felt in my heart that the key to abiding is found in this crucified life I am called to live.
I prayed that night for the Lord give me the grace to experience what it means to daily live the crucified life. I felt the urge to immerse myself in the 7 statements of Jesus on the last day of the retreat. That became the deepest moment in the whole 6 days retreat.
That night in bed I listened to the hymn “Oh the deep deep love of Jesus” which was on my IPhone. Here is the audio if you wlike to listen.
O the deep, deep love of Jesus, vast, unmeasured, boundless, free!
Rolling as a mighty ocean in its fullness over me!
Underneath me, all around me, is the current of Thy love .
Leading onward, leading homeward to Thy glorious rest above!
O the deep, deep love of Jesus, spread His praise from shore to shore!
How He loveth, ever loveth, changeth never, nevermore! .
How He watches o’er His loved ones, died to call them all His own;.
How for them He intercedeth, watcheth o’er them from the throne!
O the deep, deep love of Jesus, love of every love the best! ’.
Tis an ocean vast of blessing, ’tis a haven giving rest! .
O the deep, deep love of Jesus, ’tis a heaven of heavens to me;
And it lifts me up to glory, for it lifts me up to Thee!