Does anyone else struggle with intimacy in prayer? This was not a concept or experience encouraged when I was growing up, and it has been a struggle even now after 5-ish years of immersion in Ignatian Spirituality. Ignatian Contemplation has been a great gift because I find I can step out of my head and out of my time and enter into a scripture passage as though I am there. With the guidance of the Holy Spirit, I am a participant, and it never occurred to me until just now how intimate this form of prayer is. I prayed with The Transfiguration in Matthew 17: 1-9 today. It was there on that mountain I surrendered to Love and truly listened.
So, what exactly happened on that mountain top?
I invite you to pause here and read through the story of the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-9). Imagine yourself at the top of the mountain, standing next to Peter, James, and John. They’re exhausted, not only from the steep climb, but they’ve been emotionally trudging along ever since they left their familiar boat and began to follow Jesus. I’m sure Jesus wanted Peter and James and John to understand more than they did, but they were trying the best they could, and they all needed time and quiet with each other.
A much-needed rest turns into a deep sleep. Suddenly, they are awakened by a piercing light, and Jesus (radiant!) is standing before them speaking to Moses and Elijah. What could this possibly mean? Have Moses and Elijah come back to life? Look at their faces, how expressive they are! Overcome with awe, Peter wants this moment to continue. “Let’s make shelters for the three of you”.
Then a voice resounds around them, “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” As I read those words, it felt like God was speaking to me! I can barely breathe as those words fill my heart. I understand why they are prostrate on the ground. The tender voice of Jesus gives them the courage to look up. “Don’t be afraid.” To be honest, I laughed out loud as they were walking down the mountain when Jesus told them not to speak of what happened until later. “No problem, Jesus. I can barely speak of it to myself!”
What is the message for me centuries later?
As I imagined myself in the story, I am reminded of the loving invitation to follow Jesus that I received during the Spiritual Exercises. I resisted God’s invitation of unconditional love back then. I would not, could not believe it, even as my heart ached for the experience of God’s love. I was afraid. There were too many wounds and scars. Jesus would need to break through a lifetime of self protection to get to my heart. Trudging up the mountain only made sense to this non-hiker because he asked me to follow him. I could hear Jesus’ words being spoken to me, “Don’t be afraid. You are safe… I am here…” I knew I could trust him.
In the same way that Jesus helped Peter, James, and John to make sense of that life-altering decision to leave their nets, I knew Jesus would help me understand my own transformation. The Exercises helped me see where God was present throughout my entire life, even when I was not aware of it. Jesus was trudging up every hill before me, with me, slowly helping me to see and hear differently. My once-dulled senses were reawakened and this newfound awareness reaches into every encounter of my life. Trusting takes time, and surrender takes longer. God gives us all the time and grace we need.
“Do not be afraid.”
Jesus didn’t ask me if I was afraid. He knew I was. His heart was moved by my helplessness, and he drew me into the space where no words are necessary. This is a place of rest, where I am safely nestled, and like Peter. I didn’t want to leave. This is intimacy. We need practice to feel comfortable with such a powerful emotion. The Transfiguration is one of the most intimate moments in the gospels. Jesus invited the three apostles into a loving relationship with him. Moses and Elijah represented the law and the prophecies Jesus came to fulfill…for us. The Father declared his love for Jesus and then tells us all to listen to him. We became family on that mountain.
Coming down from the mountain is much harder than going up.
Intimacy with the Mystery of Love transforms us in unimaginable ways. Why would Jesus walk me down that mountain…into real life…into real death? We cannot stay in that place of rest and safety forever. Suffering is unavoidable, but my heart knows God’s unconditional love gives me the courage to face all that lies ahead.
As we continue on our Lenten journey, we approach the Third Week of the Exercises, as it is presented to us in the liturgical year and in the many ways we experience our own “dying and rising” in our daily lives. Our transformation will again be realized after the Resurrection. The Holy Spirit will fill us with the fire of Love that must be spoken, must be shared throughout our lives as Jesus asks.
This is how we walk down the mountain to live the intimacy that began Peter’s transformational journey and ours. The eyewitness of Divine Majesty and Mercy takes us from our head, step by step to our most vulnerable heart where we can truly rest safely within the heart of Christ.
My prayer for all of us comes from 2 Peter 1:5-7:
“ For this reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue…virtue with knowledge…knowledge with self-control…self-control with endurance…endurance with devotion…devotion with mutual affection…mutual affection with love.”
- Consider making the Anima Christi translated by Fr.David Fleming, SJ part of your daily prayer.
- How to Pray Using Ignatian Contemplation by Becky Eldredge
- Healing through Imaginative Prayer – Into the Deep Blog Series on Imaginative Prayer
Photo by Antonio Janeski on Unsplash