If we walk in the light, as he is in the light (1 John 1:7)
This past winter I thought how lovely it is to start each day with a Eucharist, in which we can see a moment of our “home away from home.” The themes of incarnational light wove through Epiphany with the manifestations of Christ’s glory. Who could resist them? We should take a moment of prayer to consider this in all our concerns for the Church, our nation, and the world.
The Johannine gospel of the calling of the first disciples sets the tone of our spiritual journey this year with the combination of two questions that remain relevant as we pass through the season of Easter — Jesus’ What are you seeking? and the two disciples’ Where are you staying? (John 1:38). A question in exchange for a question — so Johannine — points the way to perfect freedom for a restless heart. How often do we allow something less than God’s specific will for us overcome our earnest desire to please God? Is it possible in acquiescing to peer pressure that we drown out the God-implanted yearning within us?
Perhaps the safeguard to keep us focused on God’s still small voice comes with understanding John’s unique message in the use of the word menein, “abide,” as used in the question Where are you staying? With it he gives us a compass for the journey to God’s kingdom. Out of 120 occurrences of the Greek verb menein in the New Testament, over half come from the Johannine tradition.
The call of John 1:39, in response to the disciples’ question (Come and see), could mean Come and see my dwelling place. But Jesus’ “abiding” has a quality of stability, sinking into a safe space, and permanence and right relationship. Raymond Brown cites John 12:34, where the crowds before Jesus insist that “The Messiah is to remain forever” (menein). If Jesus is the Messiah, he must “remain forever,” as indeed John the Baptist testified had happened with regard to the Holy Spirit, coming down from heaven and remaining on Jesus (John 1:32-34).
Here is where Ignatian discernment is invaluable. Resting in the unchangeable will of God means that we can be assured that who we are and how we have been created is all a part of his plan for us. There is never any contradiction in God. If a new possible life direction and decision frightens us or seems wrong, the question of discernment becomes Why?
We must dig deeper.
Human beings are amazing creations. We do not have a body attached to a soul. We are an incarnate soul, if by soul we mean all the substance and qualities that allow communication, contact, and bonding to happen and abide. We are a unique creation in the cosmos.
Relationships abide within the figurative chamber of the heart — with God and with others of our Christian community. In the Mirror of Charity, St. Aelred of Rievaulx described the heart as “Noah’s Ark” where all creation is housed in microcosm. Our enemies may be in the bilge waters below, but they are still a part of our heart and there for our ministrations. Our closest God-given friends and family are in subsequent upper chambers with the angels and spirits in the rafters, but only Jesus may enter our inner chamber. It is to that inner chamber we must retreat in order to abide with him. As St. Augustine famously said in the Confessions, “Our hearts are restless, until they rest in Thee.”
Eric Mascall’s little book of six retreat meditations, Grace and Glory, did a masterful work in reminding us that the Christian journey, begun on earth, starts with grace, freely given for our salvation, and ends in glory, giving all to the Father in life everlasting, in perfect peace, and the joy of finally being in total right relationship with God. “Abiding” here, today, on earth in the Eucharist is the foretaste of the heavenly banquet.
As St. Paul says, love of God, this “abiding,” is only seen in a mirror, or “a glass darkly” (1 Cor. 13:12 KJV). In our God-given freedom we exercise and develop those faculties that will allow our “abiding” to flourish. Ignatius of Loyola in his famous convalescence and conversion experience was given the grace to see his actions and decisions as if before God. Through his reflection upon this larger context, he developed his Rules for “becoming aware” or, as we would say today, “discernment of spirits.”
There is a simple test to know when, peering in that dark glass, whether you see God’s will. Are you at peace with yourself? How often we can fool ourselves, through benevolent busyness, but when we stop to listen beyond our reason, beyond our feelings, what do we hear? If it is peace, we are abiding in Christ.
With practice, even the modern empirical materialist can learn to “hear” the Master’s voice this way. I know. I was one once. This is the assurance that makes saints and happy Christians.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.