When I made the Exercises a few years ago, I did an imaginative contemplation on the nativity at the beginning of the second week. I remember being my inner child, around the age of three or four, and I was the daughter of the innkeeper and his wife. It was late in the evening and my mother was out in the shed with the guests, helping to deliver the baby. I remember hearing a new born baby cry, and I ran to the shed, in my white pillow case dress, and sandals, calling out excitedly:
Can I see the new baby? Can I see the new baby?
My mother tried to calm me down and to usher me away – probably as much to protect me from witnessing the aftermath of childbirth as to protect the new mother and baby from an over excited child who is unable to contain herself, but Mary said it was fine and allowed me to come close to her and the baby, with a warm smile. I sat calmly beside her and looked at the baby, with His unfocused eyes, and I asked:
Can I smell Him? Can I touch Him? Can I hold Him?
She said yes to all of the above and so I breathed Him in deeply, I touched His forehead softly, and I leaned against the wall and sat still as she placed Him on my lap and I held Him carefully in my arms.
And I asked her softly:
What’s his name?
His name is Jesus.
She replied. I sat there with Him in my lap and repeated it again and again. An over excited child – stilled and in awe.
I have noticed that since The Spiritual Exercises, my experience of the liturgy has deepened. Whenever there is part of the gospel during the year that I had prayed with then, I am again placed in the story and interacting once more within it and experiencing the spiritual consolation I received at the time. The graces of the Exercises remain. Ignatius advises us to store up such consolations to sustain us during times of spiritual desolation. It is also worth noting that times of desolation are to be expected and cannot be avoided. What is within our power is to do what we are able to in order to deal with them. It might be a bit like dwelling on memories of the times of tenderness and love shown with a loved one when they are not there and you miss them. He says:
When one enjoys consolation, let him consider how he will conduct himself during the time of ensuing desolation, and store up a supply of strength as defense against that day.The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, trans. Louis J. Puhl S.J.
And Ignatius also says:
On the other hand, one who suffers desolation should remember that by making use of the sufficient grace offered him. he can do much to withstand all his enemies. Let him find his strength in his Creator and Lord.The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, trans. Louis J. Puhl S.J.
Sometimes, when I find that I have again placed myself in a particular contemplation I made during the Exercises it is like a repetition and there is something new, something relevant for the situation today and a deepening of understanding: the story or conversation may change in the small details or emphasis. The original consolation is still there and there is even more given on top of it. Often there are tears. Ignatius frequently references copious amounts of tears as spiritual consolation. For someone who prefers to go into her room and close the door to pray, it feels awkward to cry in public, but sometimes, impossible to hold it back.
I am aware that I have made two contradictory points about names in the past. On the one hand:
and that to know the true name of something or someone is to have power over it or them. To hold both of these ideas as true is perhaps paradoxical and I am drawn to paradox. The name “Jesus”, or “Yeshua” as He was actually called, means:
Jesus is as Jesus does, or Jesus does as Jesus is. If I say His name again and again as I did as a small child in the imaginative contemplation I described above, does that mean I have power over Him as happens in fantasy fiction or as was the belief in His time? Quite the opposite I would say. In repeating His name, I gradually relinquish power I may have in the gift of free will and surrender myself to His desires for me: I accept His power over me. It is as if, by repeating His name again and again, I am calling on the seed of God within me to grow.
The seed of God is in us. Now the seed of a pear tree grows into a pear tree; and a hazel seed grows into a hazel tree; a seed of God grows into God.Meister Eckhart
Some years ago I went to another event run by the Norwich Christian Meditation Centre. Lawrence Freeman delivered a talk and a practice session on Christian meditation. It basically involved taking a sacred word, phrase or name as a mantra, and repeating it over and over in the mind. Possibilities he suggested: Maranatha; Come Holy Spirit; Jesus. The Jesus prayer, or Centering prayer involves a similar process:
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
In the film “Layer Cake” – it is a violent gangster movie, so if you are sensitive, here is my health warning – there is a scene where one of the gangsters takes apart a gun: they are getting ready to go into battle. He tells the other gangster that it is like meditation and describes meditation as:
…concentrating the front of your mind on a mundane task so that the rest of the mind can find peace.
Personally, I think that it is an excellent description of meditation- although I would refute His name as being something mundane, obviously. If His name is ever in my mouth, if it is the conversation I have with my own mind, I become as my small inner child did when holding the baby Jesus on her lap: stilled and in awe. The back of my mind is freed up not to worry because I surrender to Him and I trust in Him completely. To me, it is the meaning of serenity.