One of my touchstone memories, and maybe even my earliest memory of God, is as a young child, sitting on a hill looking out over Loch Morar, after the rain, when that fragrance is in the air, and being moved to awe right down to my wellie boots. I remember saying to Him, maybe even whispering:
You made all this?
The song by Runrig, and the title of this post was brought to mind by the gospel reading last week (Luke 14:25-33) , and the sermon, where a connection with the rich young man, who went away sad, was drawn (Mark 10:17-22). This song haunted me for some time after I returned home from The Exercises: it echoed some of my imaginative contemplations, as well as my early experience. It evoked a yearning in me, which I sometimes associate with homesickness, and more than that, to be in the highlands of my home country, with the mountains, forests, lochs and rain.
Every river I try to crossRunrig, Every River
Every hill I try to climb
Every ocean I try to swim
Every road I try to find
All the ways of my life
I’d rather be with you
There’s no way
I guess it was the contrast between considering the cost of discipleship, knowing what it will cost and making a decision about whether you can go ahead with it, or choose an alternative course of action – to sue for peace, or not start building the tower – and the sense that I have at the moment, and actually most often, that I cannot see the road ahead of me, or path, only the next step, the next paving stone, or shovel of gravel, being laid down, even as my foot is in mid air and is about to come down on it.
But of course, there is more to it than that – it is not such an obvious conflict. The point was made about considering what is getting in the way, our inordinate attachments: with the rich young man, his great wealth, for example. Our desire for security, for making our plans and ensuring we can we follow through may be, ironically, what is getting in the way of our total surrender and trust in God.
St. Ignatius talks about three kinds of humility in the Exercises, and the rich young man exhibits the first:
…as far as possible I so subject myself as to obey the law of God our Lord in all things…The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, trans. Louis J. Puhl S.J.
Of the third kind Ignatius says:
I desire to be accounted as worthless and a fool for Christ, rather than to be esteemed as wise and prudent in this world.The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, trans. Louis J. Puhl S.J.
and I am reminded of McCaig’s Folly, the unfinished tower, in Oban in Scotland.
28 “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? 29 For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, 30 saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’(Luke 14:28-30)
I’m not local to Oban, but so far as I understand it, John Stuart McCaig is not considered a fool today, in spite of the name of his unfinished tower. He understood the importance of work to the human spirit when he commissioned his tower.
James Martin S.J., when referring to an imaginative contemplation on the story of the rich young man speaks about noticing afresh the phrase:
And Jesus Loved him.Jesus A Pilgimage, James Martin S.J.
Considering how He looks at me at the beginning of prayer is suggested by the third addition of The Spiritual Exercises, and although it is something we can struggle with, it is powerful and moves us. We are never told what happens to the rich young man, but I like to imagine that he did move from this point in his journey from the first kind of humility, to the third kind, as a result of his interaction with Jesus.
The connection between this gospel passage, the rich young man and the deepening movement from the first to the third kind of humility culminates in the Suscipe Prayer at the end of The Exercises:
The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, trans. Louis J. Puhl S.J.
Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding,
and my entire will,
All I have and call my own.
You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.
Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only your love and your grace,
that is enough for me.
The poignant irony seems to me to be then, that the cost of being a disciple is to be prepared to not count the cost: total surrender to God is to embrace that there is no way without Him, no matter what river, hill, ocean or road we are trying to find. This is the essence of the gospel and the Suscipe Prayer which is a once and for all and an everyday surrender. Being at the end of the exercises suggests a journey towards this great surrender of ourselves to God, and like the rich young man, the one building the tower, or the king about to go to war, we are all at different points on the journey which is uniquely ours. I end with another, musical, poignant irony in a place reminiscent of McCaig’s folly to some extent in appearance, but not in history.