Third in an occasional series of Ignatian colloquies …
Editor’s (admin’s) note. One of a series of posts in which I journal my attempts to incorporate Jesuit imaginative prayer exercises into my own prayer life. In today’s, I try what is often known as the triple colloquy. “A colloquy is an intimate conversation between you and God the Father, between you and Jesus, or between you and Mary or one of the saints,” explains Kevin O’Brien, SJ. “In the meditations on sin,” he adds. “Ignatius suggests that we place ourselves before the cross” and raise three questions:
- What have I done for Christ?
- What am I doing for Christ?
- What ought I do for Christ?
It’s been several weeks now since I had my last heart-to-heart with Jesus. I’m grateful for Zoom technology, in my prayer life as well as my interactions with other parishioners in my Lutheran church, my spiritual director and a Dominican anti-racism initiative I’ve recently joined. The technology also helps me imagine a F2F conversation with Jesus without getting off in the weeds of historical authenticity. To begin developing a personal relationship with God, in other words.
So here goes —
After I’d been reading O’Brien’s book excerpt about the colloquy on IgnatianSpirituality.com website, I checked my email and found a message from a familiar address, <firstname.lastname@example.org>. “Jesus Christ,” it said, “is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting. Topic: Triple Colloquy. Time: Aug 2, 2022 04:00 PM Central Time (US and Canada).”
So at 4 o’clock, I clicked on the link and we began the Zoom call.
This time Jesus is wearing a clerical collar and a nondescript summer business suit. But he still looks like the Christ Pantocrator in the old Orthodox icons. Short beard, longish hair but not as long as in the icons; something distinctly Middle Eastern about him but also distinctly a part of my world. I remark he’s wearing a suit this time.
“Yeah,” he says. “I did hospital rounds this morning, and I had to be with the parents and the jurors in the Parkland school shooting trial today. Brutal.” He shakes his head. “But it goes with the territory when you’re fully incarnate and you’re there to share in the suffering of your people. Every one of those kids was a beloved child of God.”
Even the shooter? I ask.
“Even the shooter.”
Jesus pauses a minute to let that sink in, then asks, “Well, you up for trying the colloquy?”
I confess I’m having a hard time imagining myself on the scene of the crucifixion, like they suggest in the how-to stories on the internet. When I visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, I was so overwhelmed by it all I didn’t even realize one of the chapels was the traditional site of Golgotha until I looked it up later.
“Two chapels,” says Jesus. “The Franciscans have one, and the Greek Orthodox have one.” I nod my head in affirmation, and he continues. “I can see why you felt overwhelmed there, and we may want to get back to that sometime.
“But for now, right now, we don’t need to visualize the cross. Every school massacre will do, or every weekend when the gangbangers shoot it out in Chicago, Highland Park, Uvalde, the Tree of Life, that Baptist church in Texas. Ukraine. Israel and Gaza. The list goes on.”
The upshot: Jesus asks me the first question: What have I done for Christ?
I don’t know where to begin, so I launch into a long-winded recap of my life story. My grandfather was a Norwegian Lutheran pastor, and he handed down Luther’s idea of vocation to my father, that you’re called to be of service. Dad was a scientist, and I always knew whatever I did when I grew up, I wanted it to be useful, I wanted it to be of service, so I went to work after grad school as a political reporter. Jesus’ raises his eyebrow a little when he hears that one, but I keep going.
After I burned out on politics and the news business, I say, I taught English and mass communications for 20 years. Felt like I made a difference there, too. Even more so. I was happily teaching freshman comp and intro to poetry when Benedictine came down from the main campus with a mass comms. curriculum, and they more-or-less drafted me to teach the print media classes. Got drafted to write the assessment plan, too, when we were up for re-accreditation and North Central was threatening a focused visit if we didn’t have one ready to show them. So a couple of us more-or-less created a plan by editorial fiat. That’s how it usually happens when I’m called by Christ to serve my neighbor — there’s a job to do and I get drafted to do the job.
Then, when I retired, I still wanted to be of service. So I was presenting historical papers on things like hymnody and immigration, and singing in my church choir till the pandemic hit. So I felt like most of the time I was useful. Now, maybe not so much.
“So,” Jesus asks, “what you’re saying is, you feel like when you’re serving your neighbor, you’re doing it for Christ? Am I right?”
I nod my head and say yes, noticing Jesus, the way I imagine him, he doesn’t preach. He asks questions instead, and trusts me to come up with the answers without a lot of prodding. I like that. Especially the feeling of being trusted. That’s new to me, at least with authority figures.
What are you doing for Christ? he asks. Another question, I notice.
Welp, I answer, not so much lately. Seems like every time I think I can start venturing out a little, the damn pandemic comes roaring back with a new variant. Now that BA.5 looks endemic, our new cases in Sangamon County have plateaued around 50 or 60 per 100,000, about where we were last year at the height of the Delta surge. So we’re pretty much cooped up at home for the foreseeable future.
But we’re managing to do a little. Mostly on Zoom. My wife and I are co-facilitating an adult faith formation class on Zoom for our parish church. It’s been going for eight months now, and it seems to be meeting a need. Mostly older members, like us, who do things on Zoom and watch the livestreamed services on Sunday morning.
So there is that. And we committed a couple, three months ago as Dominican associates. Something else we can do mostly on Zoom at this point. I think I may be hearing a call — something in between a vocation and a nudge — to master the technology better so we can do more to build communities over electronic media.
Or maintain communities. Covid isn’t going away anytime soon, and now we’ve got monkeypox. With climate change and the loss of habitat, it looks like we’re going to be seeing more and more zoonotic diseases anyway.
Zoom Jesus isn’t saying much at all. He’s just listening intently, and chiming in every so often when I pause for breath, “I hear you saying …” or something to move the conversation along. Guy must have been an awesome rebbe in his day. But he doesn’t need to prod me. I’m into the story now. After all, it’s my story. And I’m rattling right along.
Then he asks… what ought you to do for Christ?
And that stops me up short. That’s a tough one. I dunno, maybe keep on doing what I’m doing? When I committed to be a Dominican associate, I say, gathering my thoughts as I go along, I went through a pretty thoughtful discernment process and I committed to … I committed to … let me see if I can find it [link HERE], I add, rummaging around on my desk … ah, here it is. I read, I Peter Ellertsen et cetera, et cetera agree to join you in preaching the Word and witnessing Gospel values by …
OK, I say, looking up from the paper, I agreed to four things. One is those parish faith formation classes I mentioned. And I committed to learning more about what the Dominican sisters do in the community and “contributing as needed.” Like SDART, the anti-racism team. Learning more about Jesuit spiritual exercises and working on my prayer life was one — you’re seeing the fruit of it here, Jesus, that’s why we initiated these Zoom calls. And writing. One of my gifts is writing. Trying to figure out how to grow my blog. This spirituality stuff is a totally different kind of writing for me.
And what to do about my historical writing, I add, reading from the commitment statement, “[…] seeking opportunities to publish my research on immigrant church history.” I’ve done the basic research — it’s about cultural pluralism and Swedish immigrant churches in the upper Midwest just before the Civil War, and I’ve got a nifty little title, “Swedes in Roger Williams’ Garden.” Clever, eh? But I want to see how some of the culture wars play out before I try to pitch it to a publisher. Between the extremists on the Supreme Court, the white Christian nationalist dingbats storming the US Capitol and one of the major political parties trying to overthrow the administration of elections, I’d like to see things settle down a little before I start writing.
“You may have to wait a while for that,” observes Jesus.
Why do you say that? I ask. Do you know something I don’t know?
“Would I tell you if I did?” Jesus answers.
Why would I even want him to do that, I ask myself.
An endnote (Aug. 19): This one took me a long time to write, which, I believe, is testimony to the value of the Triple Colloquy; I can see why it’s mentioned in the context of retreats in the Jesuit literature I read! Some things are better now — the daily COVID-19 case rate is down to 32.7 per 100,000 now — but I still had to think through every line and, half the time, I wound up deleting it and starting over after I read through what I’d just written.
Links and Citations
“Church of the Holy Sepulchre: A Full Visitor’s Guide,” Backpack Israel, Aug. 20, 2021 https://backpackisrael.com/church-of-the-holy-sepulchre-a-full-visitors-guide/.
Christopher Hull, “Little Christs,” Sheepdog, April 29, 2017, Zion Lutheran Church (LC-MS), Tomball, Texas http://www.ziontomballtx.org/sheepdog/little-christs/.
Sangamon County Daily Case Rate (updated Aug. 5, 2022), COVID-19 Surveillance, Illinois Department of Public Health https://dph.illinois.gov/covid19/data/surveillance.html.
“New report highlights the impact of changes in environment on One Health,” news release, World Health Organization, July 1, 2022 https://www.who.int/europe/news/item/01-07-2022-new-report-highlights-the-impact-of-changes-in-environment-on-one-health.
Kevin O’Brien SJ, “The Colloquy,” IgnatianSpirituality.com, Loyola Press, Chicago https://www.ignatianspirituality.com/ignatian-prayer/the-spiritual-exercises/the-colloquy/.
Gene Edward Veith, “Martin Luther on Vocation and Serving Our Neighbor,” Acton Institute, March 30, 2016 https://www.acton.org/pub/commentary/2016/03/30/martin-luther-vocation-and-serving-our-neighbors.
[Revised and published Aug. 18, 2022]