As I looked back on my eight-day retreat, I saw the through-line of a story. It began with God’s whispers of love and a gentle awareness that I had been guarding and protecting my heart from God.
At the beginning of the retreat, I reflected on what drew me away from God in the past year and noticed something I enjoyed doing. It was not sinful in itself, but I sensed I enjoyed this pleasure too much. However, it seemed so insignificant, that I didn’t mention it to my retreat director. But when I imagined myself in the temple and heard the pharisee tell it like it was, I knew this pleasure was insidious. I loved it more than God.
“No one can serve two masters,” Father Alwyn had said in his homily one morning during the retreat. “They will hate one and love the other.” These words came back to me in my prayers, as did the psalmist’s words about idols: “They have eyes but do not see, ears but can’t hear . . . and those who make them are like them.”
Ignatius also warned of the danger of inordinate attachments. In this paraphrase of Ignatius’s Principle and Foundation, he writes,
All the things in this world are gifts of God, presented to us so that we can know God more easily and make a return of love more readily. . . But if any of these gifts become the centre of our lives, they displace God and so hinder our growth as loving persons.
Another love had led me astray, and its pleasure numbed me from feeling God’s feelings and my own as I interacted with others, read scripture or prayed.
But God pursued me and invited me to come away and rest from this pleasure. And there Jesus wooed me back.
When you read about my experience, what goes on for you? Do you hear that God loves you just as passionately? Perhaps you feel discouraged or abandoned by God, because this has not been your experience.
We can’t orchestrate intimate encounters with God. In fact, Teresa of Avila warns us not to pursue them. But I suspect that God initiates divine encounters–both fleeting and grand–far more than we realize. What keeps them at bay?
Years of offering spiritual direction have shown me that the reasons we don’t experience God more are diverse and complicated. We can’t figure it out or fix it any more than we can control God’s actions. But what we can do is listen to the ache in our souls to connect with God. We can take that ache to Jesus and ask him to rescue us. We can ask him to open our hearts to see, hear and feel his love.
And then see what happens.
Jesus says, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”
Let me not run from the love which you offer. . .
Keep calling to me
until that day comes when, with your saints,
I may praise you forever.
—Soul of Christ Prayer
by David Fleming, SJ
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When my friend Jeff is on public transit, he looks at the people around him and senses that they carry heavy burdens. Instead of distancing himself from his fellow passengers or feeling overwhelmed by their needs, he chooses to be present to them. He prays for them using a contemplative practice we teach in Living from the Heart. Without knowing their names or stories, he breathes in their suffering–not into himself but into Christ at the core of his being. Then he breathes Christ’s peace onto them. “It’s what I can do,” he says.