An Ignatian colloquy for Trinity 2020 — 1 of ___
So I’m trying to practice a new prayer technique adapted from the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola, and I’m stuck. It’s called the Ignatian Colloquy, and it involves imagining yourself in a one-on-one conversation with Jesus. I’ve read up on it, and I’ve blogged about it HERE and HERE. So I think I’ve got a rough idea how it works.
But actually doing it?
I don’t even know what the guy looks like!
Here’s one scenario for how it might go: One day I check my email, and out of the blue there’s a message in my inbox. “Jesus Christ’s Zoom Meeting.” Odd. But I’ve been doing all kinds of new things on Zoom the last couple of years, so why not this? I open the message.
The email is from email@example.com, and it says, “Jesus Christ is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting.” I check Google Calendar, and it’s scheduled for Wed May 25, 2022 2pm – 3pm (CDT).
Hey, that’s right now. I click on the link, and follow the prompts to join the meeting.
In a moment, I see one that says, “Waiting for host to let you in.” A window opens on my desktop computer, and I see a Middle Eastern-looking guy with brown eyes, short brown hair and a close-trimmed beard.
He reminds me of those Byzantine icons of Christ Pantocrator — well, that’s logical, since they’re the oldest surviving images of Jesus, dating back to the sixth century — and even more of that forensic anthropologist’s image of the historical Jesus in Popular Mechanics. Or Dutch graphic designer Bas Uterwijk’s photos (see above) that he worked up by running Byzantine and Renaissance images of Jesus through artificial intelligence software and “[t]weaking the ethnicity to a more convincing Middle-Eastern face.” They’re as good a guess as any, and better than most.
Well of course, I think, looking at my computer screen: This guy is exactly what the historical Jesus would look like!
But I notice this Jesus wearing a clerical dog collar and a black shirt, under a ratty-looking tweed sports jacket. I can’t tell over Zoom, of course, but I’ll bet he’s wearing chinos or blue jeans, too. Guy I knew at an inner-city mission back in Knoxville dressed like that. Cool guy. Kind of a role model when he was the executive director of a community arts venuce and we were applying for 501c3 status. An Episcopal priest, but a guy I could relate to even when I was a militantly agnostic grad student in English literature.
I chuckle at the thought of the risen Christ, the incarnate, pre-existing Word made flesh who dwelt among us, the Pantocrator, the omnipotent ruler of the universe wearing jeans and a sports jacket that looks like he picked it up for $10 at a Salvation Army store. Jesus raises his eyebrows. Friendly enough, with kind of a quizzical expression on his face. I’m still wary, but at least I can imagine myself chatting with this Jesus. The conversation starts like this.
“Hi,” says Jesus. “Can you hear me?”
(That’s good, I think. No verily, verily I say unto thee, and he doesn’t sound unctuous and sidewalk preachery. This may work out after all.)
Yes, I reply. Can you hear me? I have trouble with Zoom technology, but the connection’s OK both ways. A miracle? Divine intervention?
“We got a report at the home office in Jerusalem,” Jesus says, “that you’re having a little trouble with prayer. We’d like to help you with that.”
Um, I think, stalling for time. And here’s what I’m thinking: I don’t quite believe in a personal God, but it seems really, really crude for me to come out and say it to this guy’s face. Like, hey dude, I don’t believe in you. So I hem and haw and ramble on about Elijah and the still small voice. How God served up a windstorm, but God was not in the wind; and then an earthquake and a fire, but God was not in the earthquake and the fire. And finally God spoke to Elijah in a still, small voice. Isn’t that the way it works? All the time I’m rambling on about Elijah, Jesus listens intently — as if I were making sense.
“So, God speaks to you,” he says when I sputter to a conclusion. “You’re saying prayer is a two-way conversation?”
He’s answering my questions with a question. I admire the technique. I did that a lot, too, when I was teaching. Dude would have been awesome in a classroom. Or a hillside next to the Sea of Galilee.
“God speaks to you in a still, small voice,” he says, and pauses half a beat. “So how do you speak to God? How do you hold up your end of the conversation?”
Well, I begin, stalling for time again. I’m thinking, just how in blue blazes do I speak to God? And then I’m blathering. (I do that a lot when I’m nervous. Either I clam up, or I blather. Often in the same conversation.) I pray in church just fine, I tell him, I’ll even repeat the words under my breath when I’m watching a live-streamed service since the pandemic hit. I grew up in a liturgical church, I say, and I still have to get over the idea that a prayer has to sound like the 1928 edition of the Book of Common Prayer or else it isn’t really a prayer. But if I’m in trouble, I can pray fluently, without worrying about the Thee’s and Thy’s when I’m in the emergency room. O God, please, please, please get me out of this! I’ve had more practice with that than I wanted — even before the pandemic — and I’ve blogged about that, too (HERE and HERE). I even have a category I call ER spirituality on the blog. I pray for other people, too. In fact, I’d rather pray for other people. Don’t want to be too self-centered with my intercessory prayer. I lose my train of thought and blather to a stop.
“So,” says Jesus when I’m pausing for breath, “it sounds like you’re praying. But what about the other side of the conversation? Who do you pray to? Who’s behind the still, small voice you hear?”
I hem and haw some more, and think of George Burns’ character in Oh, God! Now there’s a guy I could pray to. I ask Jesus if he’s seen it.
“Oh, yes,” he says. “After all, I’m omniscient and omnipresent. I see all the movies.”
George Burns was in his 80s, I say, when they shot Oh, God! Wouldn’t he be like God the Father?
“Oh,” says Jesus. “You’re thinking of the Holy Trinity.”
I nod my head yes.
“It’s complicated,” says Jesus. “Think of it as a family business. It’s not a perfect analogy, but there aren’t any good ones — and I think a mom-and-pop restaurant is easier to relate to than a shamrock. You know these little ethnic restaurants where mom and pop work in the kitchen and the kids chat up the customers because they speak better English? Well, like Dad and the Holy Spirit handle the cooking and the business end, and I wait tables and deal more with customer relations. But we’re all in the business together. A lot of people find it easier to relate to me, but you can pray to any of us. At least for starters.”
I’ll have to think about that, I say. Jesus doesn’t answer immediately.
“What would happen,” he says after a half minute or so, “if you don’t think so much about praying to a personal God and just do it? Just pray. Talk back to the still, small voice.”
Take it on faith, I ask?
“Why, yes,” Jesus replies. “Something like that.”
TO BE CONTINUED
[Published June 12, 2022, Trinity Sunday]