This is a guest post by Michelle Francl-Donnay for Week Seven of An Ignatian Prayer Adventure.
If I had a Latin motto posted over my office door it might be Conplecte abyssum—embrace chaos, or more literally, entwine yourself into the depths. At the start of each semester my students face what I imagine seems to them an enormous writhing mass of primordial information, which they must dive into, come to know, and ultimately recognize in new situations. It’s not always a comfortable space to inhabit.
Ignatius charges us in the third movement of his Spiritual Exercises to embrace chaos, to know confusion, and to be present to the difficult. Pray, he says, for the grace to know sorrow, regret, and confusion, because the Lord is going to his passion for my sins. These are not comfortable contemplations, and I am finding them particularly challenging to engage with in the middle of my routine life. This morning between dropping off 140 tea sandwiches for the seventh grade language arts party and a midday consultation with a student, I spent an hour sitting in the back pew of my parish church, my mind fixed on what was happening on Calvary. It was a jarring shift of perspective.
As I walked into town for my meeting later, I thought about how difficult it was to move from threading my way through a mass of effervescent middle schoolers into the Passover crowds in Jerusalem, and to walk away from Jesus’ body in his mother’s lap out onto to the sidewalks of Bryn Mawr. Maybe it would have been better to keep these contemplations for the seclusion and quiet my study offers late at night?
Waiting for the pedestrian signal, I notice the woman standing next to me, with a half-dozen shopping bags awkwardly crammed with her belongings, the jaunty turquoise hat on her head belies her burdens. A gentleman, underdressed for the weather and engaged in an animated discussion with people I cannot see, barrels down the block. A woman with a strained expression on her face clutches a manila folder as she walks out of the doctor’s office and turns the corner toward the hospital.
I recall St. Augustine’s advice about contemplating the passion: “You suppose that having said ‘I cried out to you,’ you are somehow done with crying out. But even though you have cried out, you must not expect relief to come quickly. The agony of the Church and of the Body of Christ will last until the end of time.”
Suddenly I am aware that the dividing line between Lancaster Avenue and the road to Calvary is not as sharp as I once imagined. The paschal mystery plays out here as well as in Jerusalem; the Body of Christ suffers in front of me now. Can I be present to Christ’s suffering, even now? Can I continue to cry out my sorrow, my regret?
These are the depths that I have let become entwined in my life. This is the grace of the Third Week: to stand by the cross on which the body of Christ hangs and not look away.