An Evangelical Protestant Encounters Catholic Spirituality: Part 4. Drawing from the deep love of Jesus

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This is the fourth of a four part series chronicling my experience in an Ignatian retreat.

The retreat is almost over. In about 4 hours I will be heading home. I went to sleep last night with a sense of God’s deep love for me. I woke up this morning with that same feeling. I asked the Holy Spirit to draw me into God’s presence so that I can experience what he had in store for me.

I imagined myself back in the Father’s embrace. I heard the Father say to me, “This is where I want you to be daily. Don’t worry about the past. Don’t worry about the future. I am El Shaddai who cares for and nourishes you. Remain in this experience and I will lead you”. There was a strong sense of peace and that deep deep love of Jesus bubbling inside me.

As I spent time enjoying being still in the Lord’s presence (a very different picture to when I first started the retreat), I felt drawn to make this practice of working through the seven statements of Jesus a monthly examen, allowing my imagination to be guided by the Holy Spirit to keep me grateful for what Christ has done for me, to feel the fathers love and pleasure over me, and to help me remain in Christ’s love.

My imagination shifted back to the Good Shepherd and I just rested once again with Jesus in the green pastures. A thought came to me as I sat with Jesus, “There are other sheep that I need to lovingly bring into the fold”. I imagined Jesus getting up and my heart wanted to follow Jesus. I want to be where he was going. I asked the Good Shepherd to take me with him as he seeks out the other sheep. He stopped and turned and I imagined him giving me a piercing gaze. He then reached out his hand and heard him say the words he said when he called his disciples, “Come follow me”. But in my imagination, instead of Jesus continuing “I will make your fishers of men”, he said, “What you experienced with me on the cross, I want you to help others experience”.

My imagination again brought me to that place where I was drawn into the Father’s embrace in the last statement of Jesus on the cross. “This is where I call my children to be.” Then my imagination went down a strange path. I imagined myself looking at a list of things that would prevent me from inheriting the Kingdom. It was like the lists found in 1 Corinthians 6 and Galatians 5. In both these chapters Paul provides a list of sins that can prevent us from entering God’s Kingdom. But I felt an overwhelming sense of not being able to keep that list. This thought came into my mind, “If it is about doing, then you will need to follow that list perfectly or else you will not inherit the kingdom.” I looked at that list. Wrong doers won’t inherit the Kingdom. I felt a sinking feeling because I constantly do wrong. Have I cheated? Have I always been truthful? Have I been greedy or slandered or gossiped about others? Yes I am selfish and have ambitions that are for my benefit. If it is about that list I saw in my imagination, I will never inherit the Kingdom.

Then, in my imagination, the list disappeared and I saw Jesus standing in front of me. And he spoke in my imagination, “You see the list and you know that there are things on that list that will keep you out of the Kingdom. But I came so that in me you will enter the Kingdom.” The words of Jesus to remain in him kept bubbling up within me. It was a strange experience. Again I imagined the emotions I felt as I experienced being on the cross with Jesus. Being with Jesus and experiencing that deep love motivates me to change. When I saw that list in my imagination, I felt I could never be certain that I would make it.

My imagination went back to the incident where Jesus told his disciples to abide in him because he is the true vine. It is abiding in him that would cause us to bear fruit that would last. I want the fruit of the Spirit to grow in me so that I can love the way Jesus loves. That cross experience made me realize how my love falls short of the way Jesus loves. His love is deep. What I experienced this past week has left me desiring to “be” rather than to “do”. And I had a deep sense in my spirit that the Lord is seeking to draw other sheep into that deep experience of his love. It is that experience of the deep, deep love of Jesus that has left me wanting to remain in his presence and to allow him to make me more like him.

Here is the link if you would like to listen to this hymn

There is a fountain filled with blood

drawn from Emmanuel’s veins;

and sinners plunged beneath that flood

lose all their guilty stains.

Lose all their guilty stains,

lose all their guilty stains;

and sinners plunged beneath that flood

lose all their guilty stains.

Dear dying Lamb, thy precious blood

shall never lose its power

till all the ransomed church of God

be saved, to sin no more.

Be saved, to sin no more,

be saved, to sin no more;

till all the ransomed church of God

be saved, to sin no more.

When this poor lisping, stammering tongue

lies silent in the grave.

Then in a nobler, sweeter song,

I’ll sing thy power to save,

I’ll sing thy power to save,

I’ll sing thy power to save,

Then in a nobler, sweeter song,

I’ll sing thy power to save,

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