There Is No White Jesus | Famalam | BBC Three | April 12, 2017

Editor’s (admin’s) note. Second of two posts in which I try to imagine an Ignatian Colloquy, a one-on-one conversation with Jesus, on a series of Zoom calls. It’s a prayer technique adapted from the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola. I’ve read up on it, and I’ve blogged about the technique HERE and HERE. My first Zoom call of the series was posted to the blog May 25. This one picks up where the first left off.

It’s been a month now, and I’ve been going about my daily life. Prayer has been a part of it, which is mildly encouraging because I started looking into Jesuit exercises back in the winter when I was experiencing a spiritual dry spell and wanted to jumpstart my prayer life. But it hasn’t been the kind of daily discipline I aspire to. Life keeps intervening. And there’s always the internet — and its many opportunities for a political junkie to get ripped out of my gourd on wars, rumors of wars, famine, pestilence and radical US Supreme Court decisions.

The last month hasn’t been a total loss, though. I ordered a book on Ignatian prayer, by a spiritual director named Becky Eldredge. It’s called Busy Lives and Restless Souls — the reasons why that title caught my eye should be obvious — and I’ve actually been reading it (which doesn’t always happen with the books I order online.) She has quite an online presence, too, and I’ve been checking that out as well.

Eldredge’s approach to the colloquy can be elaborate. On the Ignatian Spirituality website maintained by Loyola Press, for example, she imagines a “heart-to-heart conversation” with Mary, then with Jesus and finally with God the Father:

Often, Jesus is carrying what is in my heart now to God. I imagine God sitting on a throne surrounded by angels and saints, and Jesus, Mary, and I are standing before the throne. As I receive God’s gaze upon me, I share my heart with God.

It’s called the Triple Colloquy, and it sounds really good, but I don’t know if I’m up to standing before the throne of God at this point. Or at the foot of the cross, in another common iteration of the colloquy. Besides, I’ve been chatting up Jesus on Zoom. That’s more my style, especially after two and a half years of pandemic. While I’m mulling it over, I check my inbox and there’s an email from that says, “Jesus Christ is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting.” Well, different strokes for different folks, I figure, I can always work up to the throne of God later. So I log on at the scheduled time.

Jesus looks different this time, but I’d recognize him anywhere.

He’s still wearing a ratty sports jacket that looks like he bought it at the Salvation Army, but he’s ditched the clerical collar, and he’s wearing a Loyola Chicago T-shirt under the jacket. And dreadlocks. Looks quite a bit like Bob Marley, in fact, or the roots reggae-looking Jesus in that BBC Three comedy sketch [embedded at the top of the post]. It’s quite unexpected, but it all fits my conception of Jesus. Since he’s in his 30s, he’d fit right in as a doctoral student in higher ed administration or cultural studies at Loyola. (Or, for that matter, at my alma mater in Tennessee, but he’d have to get a different T-shirt.)

You look different from last time, I tell him.

“Yeah,” says Jesus. “It comes with the territory. You know how Paul says he became all things to all people so he could win them over? To the Jews, he was a Jew and to the Gentiles he became as one without the law. A Gentile, right? That’s how we roll, all of us, but with me, even more so. It comes with the job.”

Kinda like a shapeshifter? I say. Seems like I’ve read there’s an old Egyptian manuscript somewhere that says you were a shapeshifter.

“Not exactly,” says Jesus. “But close enough.”

We chat a moment or two longer, and Jesus cuts to the chase.

“So,” he asks, “are you ready to try the Triple Colloquy?”

Well, I say, that depends on how we do it. I don’t know if I can quite imagine myself talking to Mary and Jesus at the foot of the cross, that sounds like 16th-century piety to me. Wouldn’t they have had other things on their mind on Golgotha? But I’ve been reading up on it, and I love the three questions they ask at the end. I refer to my notes, and read:

1. What have I done for Christ?
2. What am I doing for Christ?
3. What ought I do for Christ?

And there’s one more question I want to add to the three: “Who am I in Christ?”

“Well,” Jesus says after thinking it over maybe half a minute. “It sounds like maybe we’d better start with that last question. What do you mean by it?”

Why, i think, does he always answer my questions with a question?

Because, I’m starting to realize, he wants me to think for myself. I used to do that with my students, too, and I’m relating to Jesus as a teacher, a rabbi, a pastor. The old story about Hillel comes to mind. Guy asks Hillel to sum up the Torah, the law, while he’s standing on one foot, and Hillel says: Whatever you hate, don’t do it to your neighbor — that’s the Torah, the rest is commentary, go study. That’s a nice story, I think while Jesus is waiting patiently on the computer screen, but it isn’t getting us anywhere.

Well, I say, it’s about being, not doing. Whatever that means, I think. Who am I? I say it tentatively at first, and then I’m off and running, blathering, who am I not what am I doing. I remember hearing that around the tables in 12-step recovery groups — you’re a human being not a human doing, so chill, relax, don’t overthink things. Do what comes naturally (as long as you keep coming to meetings and take things one day at a time). Just do it. I’m blathering. Like the Nike ads. Like Hillel and the guy standing on one foot, I think again. Now why did that story pop in my mind?

Hey, Jesus, I ask, interrupting my monologue. Can I tell you a story?

“Why, of course,” says Jesus. “I’ve always liked a good story.”

So I tell him the one that’s been on my mind about Hillel and the convert who asked him about the Torah while he was standing on one foot. “Now what do you think he meant by that?” asks Jesus. As soon as I’m finished. Always with the questions. Guy must have been a wonderful teacher. I can see why they flocked to hear him in those dusty little Galilee border towns back in the day.

Well, I answer, that’s pretty easy. Just keep the commandments and don’t worry about the rest, I say. Jesus nods his head yes. And you keep the commandments, I continue, because that’s who you are, you’re a child of God, and the rest is commentary. That’s what the children of Israel do. It’s in the covenant. and we do it because of who we are. That’s the way we roll.

“Exactly,” says Jesus. And I can’t help beaming.

He mentions Hillel in passing, says he was a little before his time, but he heard a lot about him during his first ministry in Galilee, and he had it right — love God, love your neighbor as yourself, go and study. If not now, when?

“Anything else?” he asks.

Hey man, I I say, can I tell you another story? I feel like I’m starting to get the hang of this: Answer a question with a question.

“Why not?”

Yet another question, I notice.

Well, it’s not exactly a story, I say. It’s more like a bad pun. But it tells me what it means to be “in Christ” better than any theology I’ve read, and I’ve read a lot of theology. Don’t even get me started on theosis in the School of Tuomo Mannermaa at the University of Helsinki! It’s something I noticed when I was reading the introduction to Luther’s commentaries on the Gospel of St John.

“Ah,” says Jesus. “John. I knew him well. I don’t know where they got some of that stuff when they edited his book, but he knew. He knew what we were trying to do, and he got most of it right. If you take that stuff about “the Jews” this, and the Jews that with a grain of salt, you can’t go wrong reading John.” Hw pauses for a second or two.

“But I’m interrupting you,” he says. “Do go on with the story.”

In the 1530s, I recall, pretty late in Luther’s career he filled in for Johannes Bugenhagen, who was his pastor in the town church, the Stadtkirche, in Wittenberg. So they exchanged several letters that summer; they were both professors at the university, and they wrote Latin. Well, in one of the letters Luther said something about their being “Christs,” in nominativo et genitivo, in the nominative and genitive cases, the subjective and possessive in English. Most readers wouldn’t understand that unless they’d taken Latin in school, so his translator, a guy named Jaroslav Pelikan, said they were Christs, C-h-r-i-s-t-s, “with and without the apostrophe.”

“That’s very nice,” says Jesus. “I like that.”

I thought that was brilliant. Not a real knee-slapper, rolling-on-the-floor funny, I-laughed-so-hard-I-thought-I’d-die-funny, but that’s as close as I can come to that last question — who am I in Christ? Well, we’re all Christs, in nominativo et genitivo, with and without the apostrophe. We’re the body of Christ, we do Christ’s work — and we belong to Christ. And — you know what? — I think that goes a long way toward answering those other three questions, too. What have I done for Christ? What am I doing? What should I be doing? If I belong to Christ, and I’m part of the body of Christ, I ask Jesus, doesn’t that mean I’ve got my work cut out for me and all I have to do is to discern what you guys want me to do?

“Yeah, I like the sound of that,” Jesus answers. “What do you think?


Shoshannah Brombacher, “On One Foot,”, Chabad-Lubavitch Media Center, New York

Becky Eldredge, “Ignatius and Me: The Triple Colloquy,” Becky Eldredge

__________, Listening for God in Colloquy,” Ignatian Spirituality, Loyola Press

Pete Ellertsen, “Was Luther a mystic? Hard to say. But an offhand Latin pun and a Lutheran T-shirt offer a new way of thinking about it,” Ordinary Time, June 11, 2020

“Egyptian Text Describes Jesus Changing His Shape,” Archaeology, March 13, 2013

Wikipedia articles on Johannes Bugenhagen, genitive case, Hillel the Elder, Irenaeus, Tuomo Mannermaa, nominative case and theosis.

[Published July 10, 2022]

2 thoughts on “Praying St. Ignatius’ colloquy with a story from the Talmud about Hillel the Elder and a corny Latin pun by Martin Luther

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