This is the second post about what happened on my 8-day silent retreat in July. If you haven’t read last week’s post, I encourage you to do that before you read today’s.
“I’d like you to pray the third exercise in ‘Week One’ of the Spiritual Exercises,” Erik said. “This is the one where you have conversations with Mary, Jesus and God about the sin that has hurt others and creation. God knows we’re not wholly responsible for our actions. Culture, upbringing and unkind things that were done to us impact our choices.”
“Yet we don’t want to brush off what we’ve done,” I said. “We need to feel compassion for those we’ve hurt and make amends. So I need to meet God somewhere in between those two places.”
“Yes,” Erik said. “That uncomfortable sweet spot in between. We want to be aware of what we’ve done but not weighed down by guilt. In that place, ask for the grace of confusion–the bewilderment that God does not condemn or reject us but loves us all the more.”
With a clearer understanding of what to do, I met up with Mary in my prayer. What mother could I imagine playing this role? I settled on Maya Angelou. I loved being in her presence and savoured the way she looked at me. She made it easy for me to be honest. I talked with her about my wasted opportunities to love specific people. She knew who I was talking about and smiled when I mentioned their names. They are dear to her heart.
“I tend to do what feels good in the moment and that takes priority,” I said.
“Yes,” she said shaking her head, “and that contributes to their low self-esteem. But I hear you. It’s hard to push against the ‘NO’ inside. Maybe you’re tired and need more rest.”
We talked about it with Jesus. I have always pictured him the way I first saw him in a painting in the basement of the church where I grew up–you know, light brown long hair, beard, a gentle face and a white robe with a blue sash. That’s how I saw him now.
He didn’t dismiss the severity of my problem either. “You can’t do it,” he said plainly. “Let’s go see my Father.”
I imagined God as Father Thoma Keating. His arms opened wide to greet us. “Welcome, my daughters! Welcome, my son!”
We sat down and had tea. “Yes, this is very serious. You know that yourself, Esther. Think of how many times family, friends, teachers and church members missed opportunities to love you when you were growing up and how that affected you. It made you seek love elsewhere.”
Then he stood up and said, “So I’m going to DO SOMETHING about that. Mary, Jesus, let’s take the opportunity we have right now to love Esther.”
They pulled out copies of my book and got me to read their favourite stories. They told me the parts that made them laugh and cry. They remembered each event that happened and told me what it was like for them to be there.
Then we played Scrabble. Jesus played a word that opened up the board. Mary made words like “peace” and “joy” regardless of the double or triple letter squares. God set me up so I could get the triple word scores. Then I told them to knock it off, and we played for real. Mary won. She has an incredible vocabulary.
We rode bikes and went to the beach. We sat by the ocean and watched the sun change out of its clothes and dip into the sea.
It was the best day ever.
Out of Christ’s fullness,
we have all received grace in place of grace already given.
–John 1:16 (NIV)
* * *
This is the love-mischief I’ve been up to lately. Four years ago, SoulStream used the poem “Seed Cracked Open” by Hafiz and the painting “Night Prayer” by Michael Cook at a Partner Gathering. I fell in love with both and was over the moon when Daniel Ladinsky, who translated the Hafiz poem, and Michael Cook gave me permission to use their art for my book. And they wrote something for the back cover! Today I ordered my draft copy. The book contains my blog posts from 2013-14 (freshly edited) and five prayer retreat outlines. All going well, Seed Cracked Open will be available on Amazon in September, and I will have copies to sell a few weeks after that.
Here’s what’s on the back cover:
“This book is full of stories about God’s intimate and attentive love for us. Through the events of Esther’s everyday life and her exploration of contemplative Christian spirituality, she is drawn deeper in love with God, her neighbour and creation. ‘The seed has cracked open,’ she says, “and I discovered, as the poet Hafiz did, that “there are two of us housed in this body”: God and me! Wherever we go, whatever we do, God is there—inspiring, transforming and enjoying me as I am. That’s led to some delightful “love-mischief” for the world.'”