Previously I wrote about The Two Standards Meditation from the Spiritual Exercises and illustrated something of the modus operandi of Jesus and of the enemy. In this key mediation Ignatius makes the first point:
Consider Christ our Lord, standing in a lowly place in a great plain about the region of Jerusalem, His appearance beautiful and attractive.The Spiritual Exercises of St, Ignatius, trans Louis J. Puhl S.J.
The Two Standards Meditation appears in the second week of The Exercises, as does the Imaginative contemplation on The Nativity. The grace asked for in the second week is:
…for an intimate knowledge of our Lord, who has become man for me, that I may love Him more and follow Him more closely.The Spiritual Exercises of St, Ignatius, trans Louis J. Puhl S.J.
There is a convergence in these two points in a question asked by Gerard W. Hughes in God In All Things, which I have paraphrased in the title because it is how the question has ingrained itself into my heart. He asks:
What do you find attractive in the teachings of Jesus?God In All Things ,Gerard W. Hughes
And he goes on to say:
Focus your heart on these things. An attraction is a sign that you are being called to live out those qualities in your own way, in your own circumstances.God In All Things ,Gerard W. Hughes
Going back a period of years, I spent some weeks pondering just this question from Gerard Hughes, along with a question my own spiritual director had asked me which niggled at me. It is an experience I often have in with my director, and while I attempt an answer there, on the spot, my dissatisfaction with my answer leaves me pondering more deeply, subsequent to my meeting with him. Around about the same time I was also reading Choice, Desire and the Will of God: What More do you want? by David Runcorn and The Alchemist by Paul Coelho. There was definitely a theme going on and the feeling of it was as if there was something on your tongue that you needed to say, but every time you made to speak, the words were lost: or that there was a shape emerging out of the mist, and just as you were about to recognise it, it sank back again into obscurity. In retrospect I know that the process was about discovering the deepest desire of my soul, and at the end of it, when I had articulated it, it was as if I had found the place where my pearl of great price was buried and I had only just acquired the field. I was ready now to start digging.
I paraphrased the question because my answer to it was more to do with Jesus Himself, how He was, how He manifested His teachings. I have heard it said that:
The best sermon is a good example.
and Jesus exemplified what He taught: His actions matched His words, He practiced what He preached. For me, other than His authenticity, what I find most attractive about Him is that He always responded to people in the way that they needed in order for them to come closer to God: He always knew what to say and what to do with any given person or situation. He knew when to challenge, when to heal, when to teach.
For example, the rich young man who went away sad. We are never told what happened after that, but I like to think that he could not remain unchanged after Jesus looked at him and loved him, before throwing down the gauntlet, before giving the young man the challenge of his life, which he had actually asked for. I like to believe that after time and discernment, the young man did take up the challenge and effected a change in his life.
And the woman with the haemorrhage, who sought healing and received even more. After so many years of being an outcast because of her bleeding, He not only healed her, but claimed her as His kin, drawing her out, to speak up. I went to a talk by Elaine Storkey when I was a student and I vividly remember her take on this particular Gospel story. She told us that in the context of the time, this woman could have been stoned for defiling a religious leader, hence her fear in speaking out. So not only did He heal her physical ailment, but also the effect of years of erosion of her self esteem: spiritual healing as well as physical.
There are so many more examples I could give; these two are only a sample of my favourites and they show me something of my attraction to Jesus. At the end of my period of pondering, the deepest desire of my soul which I finally managed to express was:
To have the freedom to be who He would have me be.
And I realised how clever God is, because it describes a process, in two parts, of constant discernment; and I already understood that it is the process that draws us closer to God. The first part is:
Who would He have me be?
and the second part is:
What is limiting my freedom to be who He would have me be?
The process is consistent with the movement of the Exercises, through the Principle and Foundation to the Contemplation to Attain Love.
Therefore, we must make ourselves indifferent to all created things, as far as we are allowed free choice and are not under any prohibition.The Spiritual Exercises of St, Ignatius, trans Louis J. Puhl S.J.
The first is that love ought to manifest itself in deeds rather than in words.The Spiritual Exercises of St, Ignatius, trans Louis J. Puhl S.J.
Then I will reflect upon myself, and consider, according to all reason and justice, what I ought to offer the Divine Majesty, that is, all I possess and myself with it. Thus, as one would do who is moved by great feeling, I will make this offering of myself:The Spiritual Exercises of St, Ignatius, trans Louis J. Puhl S.J.
In The Alchemist, Santiago meets a crystal merchant whose desire is to make the pilgrimage to Mecca, but he only made it so far in his journey when he stopped to run his crystal shop and effectively got distracted by the business of the world. The merchant reasons:
Because it’s the thought of Mecca that keeps me alive…I’m afraid that if my dream is realized, I’ll have no reason to go on living…I’m afraid that it would all be a disappointment, so I prefer just to dream about it.The Alchemist, Paul Coelho
Earlier, when he first meets Santiago, the merchant laughs at Santiago’s expression of his own dream and the impact on Santiago is desolating:
There was a moment of silence so profound that it seemed the city was asleep…It was as if the world had fallen silent because the boy’s soul had.The Alchemist, Paul Coelho
The merchant still had his desire, but gradually, his soul became quieter in expressing it because the pain of not progressing towards it was unbearable. It is the manifestation of the phrase:
Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.Henry David Thoreau
In my 40 Day journey with Julian of Norwich (Day 4) Julian says:
For this is the reason why those who deliberately occupy themselves with wordly business, constantly seeking worldy well-being, have not God’s rest in their hearts and souls;40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich, edited Lisa E. Dahill.
and in the personal reflections the question is asked:
In your faith tradition, what is the appropriate balance between a “this worldly” investment in human life and one’s total commitment and allegiance to God? Can both be lived simultaneously? Explain.40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich, edited Lisa E. Dahill.
They are important questions. How do we live in the world and stay true to our calling? Understanding what it is that attracts us, what it is that is calling to our soul, what it is that brings us to life, and constant discernment, is necessary to help us to keep our souls from becoming sad, one of the descriptions Ignatius gives of spiritual desolation. Asking ourselves what we find attractive in Jesus and His teachings, and focusing our hearts on those things may be, as Gerard Hughes suggests, a signpost in how we, personally, can live in the appropriate balance between our worldly investment in human life and our total commitment and allegiance to God; and live both simultaneously.