“We wish you only Jesus, we wish you only Jesus,” sing the Sisters. It is one of those songs like For he’s a jolly good fellow, the repetitive nature of which suggests it serves many occasions when a song is what is needed to express a collective greeting. It is part of a touching little ritual in which we conclude our time together on the eight-day retreat, the Missionaries of Charity and me.
They sing the song with an infectious, childlike simplicity and joy, clapping as they sing. One of the Sisters has made and decorated a beautiful card which has folded paper letters in relief spelling out the word “Thanks”. Inside, in exquisite writing which looks like some carefully designed computer font, is written: “You have filled these days with the word of God which has made us realise that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
The discovery, or recovery, of the word of God as fundamental to prayer and discernment is an urgent task for many of us. It is also exciting, like throwing fuel on the barbecue of our spiritual life to get it going. En route to Emmaus, Jesus meets troubled disciples and asks them about their hopes in following him and then makes their hearts burn within them as he unfolds the Scriptures to them. This leads to a deeper recognition of him and the reality of his presence.
Our own poring over Scripture recreates this experience, allowing us to recognise Jesus in our own lives, especially where we believed him not to be. Little technique is required to begin: one learns in the doing. It is enough to find a quiet place or, better still, the presence of the Blessed Sacrament (those two things used to be synonymous: they are sadly no longer necessarily so in the average parish church). Pray, inviting the Holy Spirit to inspire you, and Our Lady, the angels and saints to assist this meditation. Then simply read a chosen scriptural passage, and perhaps pause and read it again. Soon, without forcing it, something will begin to happen.
If it’s an episode from the Gospel, one may imagine the scene, place oneself there and see what unfolds. For instance, in the account of Jesus meeting Zacchaeus, one might imagine oneself like him, unable to see Jesus at first, and feel that frustration. Perhaps in imagination I climb a tree to see him, and hear him call my name and ask me to come down. Sometimes, the reaction may not be imaginative or visual; it may be that a word or phrase seems to strike one forcibly.
As with poetry, it is not a question of understanding what this particular word of Scripture “means”, if by that I am imagining a preset meaning with which my thoughts will suddenly coincide in the manner of a child playing snap. The process is more personal and subtle. Just allow any word or phrase where your heart rests to echo in your heart. One might hear, for example, Jesus saying, “I must stay at your house today”, and realise that Jesus means the house that is my heart; that he wishes a more intimate kind of discipleship of me. How does my heart respond? Is this a consoling prospect, or do I instantly start worrying about the state of my “house”? I can then relate any anxiety to Jesus and see how he reacts, or ask him in anyway and apologise for the mess. In this way, what happened to a man named Zacchaeus a long time ago, becomes the announcement of Good News for me now, today.
The place where my heart rests in the Scripture may sometimes seem not very spiritual at all. Scripture is great for removing stumbling blocks in my psyche to intimacy with God. I might, for example, in my meditation be identifying with Zacchaeus’s frustration at being too small, and it may remind me of a particular experience in childhood when I was made to feel small or inadequate. This perhaps made an imprint, or was the beginning of a pattern of such episodes, causing a character trait or a deep-seated resentment. I can simply relate these feelings to the Lord: perhaps now is the time to rise above them.
It is an exciting way of praying, since even what appear to be distractions and unspiritual thoughts are actually been brought into the ambit of God’s word which penetrates the heart. If I open the Scriptures and I wish only Jesus as I do so, the word will not be silent.
This article first appeared in the latest edition of the Catholic Herald magazine (22/5/15).