The 3rd Week: Stay with Him

In the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius the third week of the exercises are focused on the transformative experience of the cross. We reflect directly on the experience of the cross in our lives and often meditate imaginatively on Calvary.

A friend of mine once felt like he was stuck in the third week on his long retreat (the 30 day version–not for wusses). He said to me “He’s got to come off the cross sometime.”

And perhaps therein lies the deep challenge. Can we face our own cross knowing that the resurrection is surely to follow? Do we have hope that God will make all things new even when disastrous things happen?

I didn’t say this to him back when he mentioned that but I was reflecting on this today in my own personal prayer time and I thought to myself that Jesus didn’t come off the cross–though he very well could’ve. It must have been excruciating for His mother and the other Marys, Magdalene and Mary, the wife of Clopas, along with the beloved disciple to watch.

And when it was all over…he was taken down at the request of Joseph of Arimathea, a secret disciple and Nicodemus came to help anoint the body. Could any of us have had the guts to stay with Jesus then? Could we have removed the nails and let his dead body slink over our back and then place that body into the arms of his sorrowful mother. Could we have taken Mary’s place and become the pieta? Could we have dared to have that kind of faith.

Could we stay with Him and faced that kind of horror–the horror of seeing God’s death and yet keeping the paradoxical faith that God is somehow still alive as well?

In my imagination I imagine being one of those who carries Jesus down from the cross. I sit with him in a momentary lifelessness, wondering if after this experience I can have the faith to believe that He will rise on the 3rd day as He said?

In my own life, do I also have a similar question of faith? When all seems darkest, do I believe that Jesus will make a way out of no way?

We must stay with Him in this “third week experience” and in doing so, might we find the strength to believe? Can we see beyond the blood of the cross to find the wounded one alive again? Can we too rise from our wounds and believe that this experience is just a foreshadow of what God will also do for each one of us?

Can we hold a dead God in our arms and still believe that all will be well?

Facing the cross of Calvary enables each of us to see Jesus in a new way that ultimately provides us with the faith to get past our own crosses in our lives. It’s scary to look straight ahead at the cross and sometimes we might choose to look left and right in fear–but it is there we see Mary, who held Jesus lifeless, and believed anyway.

Do we have people in our lives who restore our faith? Who believe despite the odds mounting against them? Do we know those who have faced the death of loved ones but who can still rejoice in the resurrection despite their very real sadness–or even anger?

Staying with Him keeps things real. We cannot ignore the cross, for to do so also denies the resurrection. Our God understands our suffering and that is a beautiful thing for us to behold.

Nobody likes to suffer. If we don’t we never taste the rewards of growth. of learning, of being renewed. We might certainly be worse off if it were not for the cross.

We need the courage to stay with him, hold Him in our arms and believe.

Convicted by Christ

So I’m continuing to blog on my “preparation days” regarding my experience of the 19th Annotation retreat (an Ignatian retreat in daily living–think of it was the 30 day retreat stretched out over a longer period of time). We’ve been encouraged to journal after our required hour of prayer and I’ve been able to do so, but am finding that I do the journaling much better if I turn it into a blog post. It may be my own vanity or pride or a way to check blogging off my to do list–we’ll see. But right now I’m thinking it’s bringing me much closer in seeing God’s presence in my life.

This is the last week of “preparation” before we plunge into the exercises themselves and I am grateful for these days. There has been much to consider. I’m focusing on how easy it is for me not to believe that God can be all I really need. That I am restless and anxious until I turn to God and that I often don’t choose God–but prefer to choose a controlled activity or idle busyness as distractions from where God wants me to spend time.

And so, from Second Corinthians, we take up our pre-prayering this day:

For the love of Christ impels us, once we have come to the conviction that one died for all; therefore, all have died.
He indeed died for all, so that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.
Consequently, from now on we regard no one according to the flesh; even if we once knew Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know him so no longer.
So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come.

Conviction. It often has a negative context as a word on its own, doesn’t it? But conviction often leads me into my next plan of action. If I really believe that God is all I need and that God can redeem me, then how might I live my life differently from someone unconvicted?

Do I really believe? When tragedy strikes do I remain centered, nay run to find God at my center? Or am I more demonstratively arrogant and turn my conviction into a way to control others, to get them to believe me and my own thoughts, rather than to remain open to their journey of faith.

When I rejoice in realizing God’s activity in my life, is it truly joy, or a way to be noticed? Do I allow God to create me anew or is that often too scary? Can I let myself be “ruined for life”, by living more simply, or stretching my comfort zones and living my convictions a bit more in daily life?

I rejoice today in the fact that I am not perfect and God dares to love me anyway.

Who do I dare to love, not merely in return, because God has shown me love, but rather because of a conviction of that love that God has for us in redeeming all things.

Do I believe enough to be convicted? Is my life the evidence of a belief that God can make all things new again? In short, redemption.

I fear that I remain a free man. Free from God’s call to places that I dare not go–the dark places where I am weak and think that God cannot bring me from the temptations where I sin mightily. I dare not be convicted–for to be convicted is to be trapped. Trapped in love for all of humanity. Ruined for life. Unable to live any longer in laziness and fear and sin. To be convicted is to believe that God can make in me a new creation.

Today I pray for the spirit of conviction. May God lead me into a place where I can feel the peace of God’s power. The power that can change anything–that God can make a way when there is no way.

“Will you be convicted, Mike?”

God calls me. Do I believe?

And I must answer, “I do believe, Lord. Help my unbelief.”

I Believe Lord, Help My Unbelief

A parish I used to visit on occasion used to do a version of the creed that I loved. The presider would say the words of the creed and the congregation would respond: “I believe, Lord, help my unbelief.”

To be honest, for a person in ministry, I can’t think of a better prayer and so I’ve stayed with that prayer that came up in my time of prayer during my 19th annotation retreat. I’ll probably sit with it as a mantra for the next few days, in fact.

Do I really believe that God is all I need? Do I really buy everything that we say in the creed? Do I believe that faith alone has the power to move mountains?

Hard things to take all in one sitting to be sure. But this mantra allows me to really engage with Jesus in prayer. It is a bit like the serenity prayer that Phil Fox Rose wrote about on Busted Halonot that long ago. I need to have the faith to believe in God, despite my unbelief. I need to surrender to that unbelief and to give that to God to help with overcoming my doubts and eliminating my fears.

It is difficult to believe that God could be all that I need. I often crave things that I know aren’t good for me. I head straight for things that I know place me outside of that relationship that God calls me into.

In Mark’s Gospel, these simple words are found on the lips of a man whose son is convulsing with a demon. Jesus’ followers were unable to drive the demon out and so they call Jesus onto the scene. Jesus rolls his eyes at the lack of faith that the crowd here has, including the boy’s father who even has a whisper of doubt that anyone, Jesus included could help his son. It seems hopeless, even for Jesus.

And so the man tells Jesus that he indeed believes that Jesus can help his son and he asks Jesus to help his unbelief.

The disciples wonder why they couldn’t drive out the demon and Jesus offers another simple answer to their question:

He said to them, “This kind can only come out through prayer.”

My friend Margaret once said, “Did you ever have a relationship where you met with a friend once a week and all you did was talk about the same things and did the same exact activities in the same place? If so, ask yourself if your relationship with God is like that too.”

I think I have that tendency. The tendency to stop talking daily to God and to put off prayer in favor of other things that I’d rather do–or other things that are just time wasters. And when I don’t keep developing this relationship with God then I am doomed to face my fears alone–not because God abandons me, but because I often abandon God and turn to other people, places, things, activities that I choose over and against prayer.

I am officially on retreat now for the next few months. I am doing the Ignatian Exercises in the format called the “19th Annontation.” For those who have no idea what I’m talking about, St Ignatius of Loyola (the founder of the Society of Jesus, or the Jesuits as they are better known) developed a series of “spiritual exercises” that were to be done over a 30 day period. It’s essentially done as “a long retreat.” But he also made annotations in his book of exercises that state that people who don’t have time to be secluded for 30 straight days should be allowed to do the exercises over a longer period of time. So that is what I am doing now. I have to pray an hour a day, with scripture and in quiet. Not an easy task for me and I am getting used to making the time for this. I’m also supposed to journal a bit about my feelings during my prayer time. So I’ll try to share some of that with you as the time goes on.

Today I would say that I feel humbled by the words of the demonic’s father. He awakens me to the fact that while I believe, I do need help as well. There are plenty of things that trip me up, plenty of things that lock me into fear and hopelessness. Sometimes I get discouraged when things don’t go well and I need the opportunity to take the long view and relax and know that in the end, God is really all I need and that God will see me through regardless.

But God won’t help me if I don’t let God help me. I need to continue to listen to God’s whisper in prayer and to sit quietly for at least some time during the day and let that relationship develop into something that feeds me beyond my hunger.

My prayer today is that I can see Jesus more clearly in my troubled times and can continue to walk with Jesus daily, even when I am untroubled. Pray that I may be able to listen and be patient for God’s voice to lead me out of my unbelief and arrogance.

And I will do the same for you.

For we all believe in something. But we also need God for those times of unbelief.

We believe Lord, help our unbelief.